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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C

Visa-free travel for some refugees suspended over fears of 'abuse' of system - Ukrainians not affected

The Government made the announcement this evening amid a shortage of accommodation for refugees.

REFUGEES TRAVELLING TO Ireland from safe European countries will now be required to have visas after the Government agreed to suspend migration rules for the next 12 months.

The Government agreed to the changes this afternoon following proposals by Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.

The plan will see the Council of Europe Agreement on the Abolition of Visas for Refugees suspended for a year from midday tomorrow.

Under that agreement, refugees who had been granted international protection in a signatory country could travel to another signatory country for a period of up to three months.

However, McEntee said that the agreement was being suspended due to concerns over abuse of the system.

“This is not a decision that the Government has taken lightly. We are committed to upholding our international and EU obligations towards asylum seekers (international protection applicants) and refugees,” said McEntee.

“However, where there is evidence that there may be abuse of such systems, the Government must act swiftly to mitigate the risks to maintain the integrity of our immigration and international protection systems and uphold public confidence in those systems.

“In recent months, we have seen that the visa exemption provided for in the Council of Europe Agreement is being exploited, including by some who enter the State and subsequently claim international protection, despite having already been granted such protection by another European state.”

Figures from the International Protection Office (IPO) say that the Eurodac database – which stores fingerprints of international protection applicants or people who crossed a border illegally – showed that 760 people were notified of claiming international protection in Ireland despite having it granted in another country.

McEntee said that the suspension of the agreement would be examined again after 12 months.

Coveney said that the changes would not impact on Ukrainian refugees fleeing from the Russian invasion however.

“The decision taken today will assist in the protection of Ukrainians, and those of other nationalities, who are fleeing conflict, as it will lessen the incidence of abuse of this system,” Coveney said.

“This step is not unprecedented: other Council of Europe member states have taken similar action previously.”

The decision comes amid a shortage of accommodation for refugees arriving in Ireland, with 150 refugees set to move into tented accommodation in Gormanston tomorrow.

Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman said today that the “wartime situation” being experienced has necessitated the use of the tents, which are military-grade marquees used by the Defence Forces. 

O’Gorman said the Co Meath accommodation centre can house up to 350 people but that his hope would be that people there don’t stay for longer than a week before being moved to a more permanent facility. 

“Initially we’ll be moving about 150 people in on that on Tuesday, there’s capacity for 350 in total once Gormanston is up and running. It’s tented accommodation, so it’s large military, Defence Forces marquee tents,” O’Gorman told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.