Refugees and Asylum
Here's a choice statistic. In the first three years of the 1990's only 160 people applied to the Irish authorities for asylum. In 2002 the average was over 1,000 people per month!
What was going on? First, Ireland got a lot of press as the Celtic Tiger. The island's robust economy is making world headlines - and attracting refugees looking for a better life. The result has been a boom in the numbers seeking "political asylum." In fact, the Irish Department of Justice has found plenty of evidence that 'organised groups are smuggling refugees into the Irish Republic in lorries'.
In a land where making a decent living has always been a struggle, this is an amazing development.
For several years asylum seekers who had a child born in Ireland could then apply for residency. In January 2003 the Supreme Court ruled that non-EU immigrants did not have an automatic right to residency solely because they were parents of a young Irish citizen. And in 2004, a contentious constitutional amendment redefined Irish citizenship and the rules surrounding it.
The number of asylum applications has dropped dramatically since then. For one thing, the EU has expanded to include most of East Europe. So, people who formerly might have been classified as refugees are now automatically entitled to reside in Ireland. For another, airlines and ferries are responsible for checking documentation BEFORE potential refugees get on board. Ireland is an island nation and such procedures have cut refugee numbers tremendously.
As well, immigration officials at the ports of entry and airports have been given greatly increased powers to prevent people without full documentation from entering the country. Thousands are refused admittance annually.
Once they are residents of Ireland, some folks from ethnic minorities do experience racial discrimination. There's not a lot that can be done about the small handful of bigoted louts who almost always come from deprived areas of the inner cities. However, when it comes to employment or provision of services, there is an Equality Tribunal which handles complaints.
The most important website for those seeking more information about refugee status, advice, statistics, fact sheets and the like is the Irish Refugee Council website. Here's where you'll find the latest and best advice.
Food and board and €15 a week pocket money is provided to all refugees while their case is being processed, although they are not allowed to work or study during this period.
Asylum seekers are normally processed in the first country in the European Union at which they arrive. Consequently, nations such as Germany deal with hundreds of thousands of refugees each year. Ireland, way out on the periphery, has avoided the problem in the past.
This started changing in the late 1990's. Arrivals via ferry, in particular, became such a problem that there is now pre-boarding inspection at French and English ports. The result is that the numbers of people arriving in Rosslare Harbour seeking asylum fell from several thousand in 2000 to 19 in 2002.
The most horrific case involved a group of refugees trying to get to England. They were left in a locked container, which was diverted somehow to Rosslare in Ireland. Food and water were soon gone, then air. Only a few members of the group survived.
Refugees and the Legal System
So what will happen to these people descending on Irish shores? Many will, no doubt, spend years in a 'legal limbo' while their cases are decided. Ireland is under no obligation to allow economic migrants to stay, and these people, if they cannot make a case regarding human rights abuses in their native lands, will end up being deported.
Many will not even get this far. A law passed in the spring of 1997 gives unprecedented powers to immigration officials to board buses and ferries coming into the State. Without immediate appeal, people can be denied permission to progress further. They can be detained and deported on the spot. Couriers transporting people into Ireland risk imprisonment, though the refugees themselves do not face the same penalty.
All asylum-seekers over the age of 14 are finger-printed. An electronic records system is connected to Eurodac, a Europe-wide computer database system which will hold records and fingerprints of asylum-seekers as they enter Europe.
Under the 1990 Dublin Convention, if Ireland is not the first European country an asylum-seeker enters, they can be deported back to their original arrival point to bew processed. The Eurodac system will file the fingerprints under three different categories:
- Applicants for asylum
- People apprehended crossing an external border of the member state
- People found to be illegally present in a European country
The Eurodac system has come under sharp criticism by human rights organisations and the Irish Refugee Council.
In one of those twists that boggle, it turns out that several thousand Nigerians and East Europeans were key beneficiaries of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Central to the peace process was a clause placed in the Irish constitution entitling everyone born on the island of Ireland to Irish citizenship. The intention was to allow Northern Ireland Nationalists to carry Irish passports.
But, since 1998 more than 10,000 non-nationals were granted residency because they had a child born in Ireland.
In other words, make it to Ireland for the birth of a child, and the mother, brothers, sisters and father were all likely be granted permission to reside here due to their kinship to an Irish citizen. News of this situation had clearly gone out because the Office of the Refugee Application Commissioner estimated that between 45 and 50 percent of female asylum seekers were visibly pregnant at the time of application.
The Minister of Justice is determined to clamp down on this situation. First, inspections at entry points have been tightened. At Rosslare Harbour, for example, the number of asylum seekers fell to only 66. The previous year the number was 1,466.
Second, airlines and ferry companies are now financially penalized for carrying illegals. This means increased security at overseas airports and ferry ports. Third, several hundred well publicised deportations take place each year. The state went to the length of spending 23,000 Euro to hire a private jet to deport two Algerian men.
And finally, the government has successfully challenged the rights of non-nationals to remain in Ireland on the grounds that they are the parents of Irish-born children. See below for more.
The Irish Examiner - http://www.examiner.ie - carried the photo of one lovely and very sad-faced young Nigerian woman who was deported, but who then returned to Ireland after being threatened with circumcision in her native land. Upon her return, she was arrested and imprisoned. Eventually freed, she has no means of support and has been, like all asylum seekers, denied the right to work. Her baby will be born soon, but she is "just tired of everything" and wonders why she is being treated like a criminal. "I thought Ireland was a fair place, a peaceful place."
The governments legal team has indicated that it may pursue this poor womans deportation even after her baby is born.
This is another of those issues, like abortion, where there are no good choices. Ive always found this island to be Ireland of the Welcomes. But, Im white, American, educated and married to an Irish citizen. My heart goes out to those who just want the same things we all do - some security and a chance.
Refugees face more problems than the threat of deportation. There also seems to be a steady current of racism running under the surface of the Irish population. Don't get me wrong. 99.99% of the people here are lovely, friendly and welcoming. But there's always the 'other side.' Many refugees here have faced 'naked racism' and 'in-your-face bigotry'. These incidents have ranged from name-calling to beatings and bottle-throwing. It seems incredible in this day and age, but racism still abounds, even in a country with a history of emigration.
Travellers in Ireland aren't tourists travelling through, but rather Ireland's own version of Gypsies. With a history stretching back centuries, the Travellers were the travelling tinsmiths and traders who visited the isolated farming communities of Ireland. A people apart from the "settled community" they were always looked upon with suspicion since they came and went through these tight knit farming villages.
Nowadays, the traditional tinsmithing and way of life has disappeared. But, the Travellers are still a people apart. You'll see them as you travel the Irish roads, pulled to the side of the road in trailers, or "caravans" as they're known here.
These days, the Travellers make their living in a variety of ways. One of them is fortune telling and palm reading. Another is selling all sorts of goods from furniture to clothes and pots and pans at various weekly markets still held in most towns.
But, for the most part, their existence is marginal. They mostly don't attend schools, and though many live in permanent "halting sites" with electricity and toilets for their caravans, their culture is one of separateness. The settled community views them with suspicion, and some Travellers regard the settled community as prey.
Accordingly, when there is a burglary in a country area, the Travellers are the first ones blamed. Often with justification, often not. They certainly don't live by middle class codes but in a world apart, yet throughout Ireland.
Nothing raises the hackles of the settled community more than an "invasion" of Travellers. Particularly, the British cousins come to Ireland in the summer and travel in huge convoys of 60 to 100 caravans. They alight upon a community and problems ensue, as you'd expect, when several hundred people without access to proper sanitation and out to have a good time congregate together.
Check out the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service website for more information on your particular legal situation, visas, refugee rights, asylum and more.