Seanad debates

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Family Reunification Policy

2:30 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to the House and thank him for dealing with this matter, which calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality to provide information concerning persons in respect of whom he has given permission to come to Ireland from Syria as part of the Irish refugee protection programme humanitarian admission programme, IHAP, but whose access to travel documents has been impeded by the conflict and the relevant authorities, and to make information available regarding a procedure for assisting persons to travel here urgently, as their lives are in many cases in serious danger in Syria.

As the Minister of State will be well aware, the Minister announced the IHAP last year to provide a pathway for eligible family members coming from major conflict zones as part of the Government's commitment to realising the target of 4,000 persons to come to Ireland under the Irish refugee protection programme. The IHAP was to provide for 530 vulnerable family members to be admitted before the end of 2019. Figures released by the Minister in the Dáil show that, unfortunately, far fewer than that number have come to Ireland because 75% of the first round of applications have been refused. This is a matter of grave concern. I have met members of the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement, ISSM, and members of the Syrian community who tell me that there are all sorts of obstacle in the way of persons submitting their documents. Sometimes, documents may be incomplete due to a lack of identity papers or people may lack accommodation.

The specific issue I am raising relates to persons who have received permission for vulnerable family members still in Syria. I have been in communication for a number of months with the Department of Justice and Equality's Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, and travel document section relating to a family in an urgent situation. Family members are in Idlib, which is under siege. They cannot get out of Idlib. They have been given permission by the State to come to Ireland where they have close family members, including siblings. I keep getting a circular response from INIS to the effect that they must travel to the Irish embassy in Ankara, Turkey to access their travel documents, but they are unable to do so. They are in a terrible situation. Their lives are at risk daily. There are several hundred thousand civilians stuck in Idlib, which is under bombardment, so this family is not the only one in such a position. As a matter of urgency, would it be possible for the Department, INIS and the travel document section to arrange for Irish officials from Ankara to travel to the Turkish-Syrian border to assist with the beneficiaries' travel documents and arrange for safe passage out of Syria?

I have liaised on this issue with Senators Humphreys and Kelleher, who share my concern and have met the Syrian family in question. There is precedent from a number of years ago, where family members were at urgent risk in an African country and Irish officials travelled and were able to bring travel documents to the individuals concerned. It is essential that the Minister of State communicates with the travel document section and follows up on these beneficiaries, who have been given approval to come to Ireland but are physically unable to get out of Idlib.

There is the larger issue of IHAP applications being refused to such an extent that, given how we are now in October, it is unlikely that we will see the number of people who were supposed to be allowed admission coming to Ireland.Is there a way the safe passage of this small group of people who have been granted permission to join family members here but are unable to escape the siege in Idlib can be ensured?


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