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Algeria and Botswana to be added to 'safe countries' list from today

The list is to be expanded to include ten countries

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Helen McEntee is to bring a memo to Cabinet today on increasing the number of states on the so-called “safe countries” list.

The designation applies to countries deemed to be safe for the purposes of asylum applications.

Eight nations are currently given the designation in Ireland: Albania; Bosnia and Herzegovina; North Macedonia; Georgia; Kosovo; Montenegro; Serbia; and South Africa.

Safe countries are those where generally, there is no persecution, torture, inhumane treatment or conflict. 

McEntee will today sign orders to expand the list to include Algeria and Botswana.

International protection applicants coming from safe list countries have their cases considered, and decisions issued within a maximum of 90 days.  

Government sources have indicated that applications from safe countries are now down to 65 days on average.

The accelerated processing for Algeria and Botswana will come into effect from tomorrow.

In November of 2022, the minister put fast processing in place for applicants from the eight countries which were already considered safe by Ireland. 

Within a year of accelerated processing being introduced last year, applications for asylum from safe countries had decreased by 38%.   

Meanwhile, rates of refusals for those who still came, were high. 

First instance refusals were running at 81%, with applicants receiving decisions within 65 days of arriving here. 

An average of 78% of those who then appealed, had their appeals rejected. 

The minister believes that quicker decision making will lead to further decreases.

While countries on the safe list are deemed to be areas that are generally considered to have no persecution, no torture or inhuman treatment, if someone comes from a safe country, an individual assessment of their application can still be made. 

The International Protection Office will still consider a person’s application for refugee status.

The Irish Refugee Council sets out that a person from a country designated as ‘safe’ may still be recognised as a refugee. Giving an example, it states that between January and June 2022, 256 decisions were made on Georgian applications (Georgia is deemed a safe country of origin).

Of those, 20% received refugee status. In 2021, 18% of Georgian appeals were successful.

While there may be a presumption that a country is safe, refugee status requires an individual assessment of a person’s situation and circumstances, the council states.

McEntee also intends to tackle those who already have refugee status in another European state.

They will be entered into an inadmissibility procedure which will also be subject to fast processing, which will also from take effect from tomorrow.

The Journal reported last week that the minister discussed such measures with her ministerial colleagues at a Cabinet subcommittee meeting on migration. 

“Safe countries are there to make sure that our international protection system is not used, essentially, as a backdoor to economic migration.

“So I need to make sure that the international protection system that is there to protect people who are fleeing persecution fleeing inhumane treatment, that they have access to the system as quickly as possible, and that other people who potentially are here for economic reasons that they are processed as quickly as possible,” McEntee told RTÉ’s This Week programme over the weekend. 

Fine for airlines under consideration

In addition, McEntee is also considering increasing fines for airlines if passengers arrive in Ireland without passports or official documents.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin said the list gets reviewed on an ongoing basis. He said it is “nothing new” to add countries to it, stating that countries were added to it last year also.

He said there are a number of reasons why someone from designated safe country might come to Ireland, stating that there are strong economic reasons. While he said it is “not all plain sailing in some of these countries” which are deemed ‘safe’, “they are safe countries”, he added. 

“We will choose carefully,” said Martin. 

Speaking about fines for airlines over the weekend, the justice minister said currently, on average, the fines are €2,500 per person that an airline is fined if the passenger has no documentation.

She said a review is underway on whether to increase that, but she pointed out that a “huge amount of work” has been carried out in the last year in training airline staff. 

The additional focus on training has seen a reduction of almost 40% in people coming to the airports without the correct documentation, said the minister. 

When asked about the possibility of increased fines for airlines yesterday, the Tánaiste said the airlines have obligations and the government works with them.

“So everything is under constant review,” he added. 

Women in agriculture 

In addition to the justice memo today, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue will bring an Action Plan on Women in Agriculture to government.

Following the National Dialogue on Women in Agriculture last year examining gender equality in the sector, 12 actions are to be rolled out to promote agriculture as a viable career for women and young girls.

Currently, some 18,000 or 13% of all farm holders in Ireland are women.

McConalogue will also update Cabinet on introduction of new UK import requirements for Irish exporters to Britain which comes in on 31 January.

Separately, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris will bring a memo updating government on the ongoing efforts to address core funding in higher education.

It comes as academic staff last week voted in favour of industrial action a dispute in technological universities.The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which represents a total of 4,600 academic staff, announced today that 92% of members polled in a ballot have voted in favour of taking industrial action, up to and including a strike.

The dispute centres around pay and working conditions at technological universities around the country and a collective agreement concerning the functioning of the institutions.

The minister will today confirm the funding provided in Budget 2024 will provide an additional 1,000 staff across higher education.

The funding will be used to address the student staff ratio and will support new positions in student support services and core academic positions, as well as providing for additional healthcare places, it is understood.