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Rise in deportations 'worrying and stressful' as department denies official crackdown policy

Asylum seekers also say they are confused about a new refugee application process.

Ellie Kisyombe, who said the rise in deportations was worrying and stressful for asylum seekers.
Ellie Kisyombe, who said the rise in deportations was worrying and stressful for asylum seekers.
Image: Sam Boal

A RISE IN deportations in Ireland has been described as “very concerning”, with asylum seekers also saying they are confused about a new refugee application process which has been introduced.

The State enforced 428 deportation orders in 2016, a rise from the 251 people deported in 2015.

The International Protection Act 2015, which came into effect on 31 December 2016, bolsters the State’s power to enforce deportation orders. It gives authorities powers to arrest people who have been issued deportation orders without a warrant.

The Department of Justice denied there has been any official policy to crack down on or toughen Ireland’s asylum system.

A spokesperson said “a decision to deport a person is never taken lightly. Only persons who are illegally present in the state fall within the scope to be considered for deportation”.

But the End Direct Provision campaigner Ellie Kisyombe said the rise was worrying and “very stressful” for those currently seeking asylum in Ireland.

Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on immigration TD Fiona O’Loughlin said she “would be very concerned if people from countries like Syria were being refused entry” into Ireland, or being deported.

The first-time TD for Kildare South said “the refugee crisis facing Europe is the biggest since World War 2. Wave of wave of desperate men, women and children are fleeing war and deprivation in search of a better life and Ireland must play its part.”

A spokesperson from the Green Party has said they feel the “rise in deportations is very concerning”.

The Green Party’s spokesperson on justice, councillor Roderic O’Gorman, was critical of the fact the “government were very quick to pass the International Protection Act, which facilitates increased deportations”.

O’Gorman, who lectures in law in DCU, said:

Ireland has a long way to go before we can consider ourselves a compassionate country in how we treat refugees and migrants.

Asylum seekers now fear the increased deportation powers will mean a rise in deportations for failed asylum-seekers who lose their appeals.

“By the time people realise that a lot of people have been deported, or realise this is happening, it will be too late,” campaigner Ellie Kisyombe claimed. “It is very frightening” she added.

However, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice outlined: “The process leading to deportation is extensive with many avenues of appeal, including judicial review in the High Court, open to persons subject to deportation orders”.

Refused leave to land

The 428 deportation orders that were enforced by the State in 2016 do not take into account those who were refused permission “to land” in Ireland.

Every year thousands of people who declare at Irish ports or points of entry without visas are “refused leave to land” and sent back to the country they travelled from. Last year over 4,000 were detained at Irish ports or airports and refused entry.

Figures revealed by a recent parliamentary question put to the Department of Justice by Independent TD Thomas Pringle show 37 of those refused entry at Irish ports were migrants from Syria.

A further 178 of those stopped and sent away from Irish ports were from Afghanistan, and 26 were from Iraq.

Altogether 248 people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the small African country of Eritrea were refused “leave to land” in 2016. Of that number, 57 subsequently appealed for asylum and were allowed enter Ireland to apply for protection, the others were sent back to where they had travelled from, mainly Europe.

In a PQ answered this week, Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that the total number of persons refused leave to land at approved ports of entry to the State in 2016 was 4,127.

Of these, the top five nationalities were:

  • Brazilian – 533
  • Albanian – 446
  • South African – 329
  • United States – 266
  • Pakistan – 180.

Justice Department figures show 170 foreign nationals from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran and Eritrea were refused entry to Ireland in 2015.

The Department of Justice’s press office stated that out of the total 4,000 refused entry into Ireland in 2016, 354 people were “subsequently admitted to pursue a protection application having been initially refused leave to land”.

The vast majority of refusals relate to matters such as the lack of a visa, come from countries where International Protection is not an issue, or are refused because there is evidence that they are seeking to exploit the Common Travel Area to get to the UK.

Confusion

90362554_90362554 A protest against Direct Provision. Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

This week, the new government office that processes asylum-seeker applications in Ireland had to issue a clarification after widespread confusion followed changes to the refugee application process last month.

In January, a new 60-page questionnaire form was sent to the majority of pending asylum-seekers in Ireland from the International Protection Office, which it stated should be returned within 20 working days.

Recent changes to the asylum process have meant the majority of asylum-seekers with current cases are required to reapply. The new International Protection Office (IPO) is taking over asylum cases from the former Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC).

Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, said the 20 working day return limit for the 60-page questionnaire has “created understandable alarm” for asylum-seekers.

The advised 20-day return limit and the large amount of asylum-seekers the ‘IPO 2’ forms were sent out to has meant solicitors or pro-bono lawyers who work on asylum cases have not been able to meet the intense demand.

The IPO released a statement to clarify that the 20-day return date “is purely an administrative deadline to commence the processing of applications as soon as possible. Flexibility is being provided if extra time is required for completion of the questionnaire and for the receipt of legal advice if required”.

The IRC said it would “strongly recommend” that asylum-seekers “seek legal advice before completing the questionnaire”. The refugee rights group was critical of the lack of information or consideration given to asylum seekers in the rollout of the new system.

Nick Henderson of the IRC outlined that “the questionnaire is a critical document in our asylum procedure; it is not surprising that people, some of whom are particularly vulnerable, feel distressed at having to complete this type of document, in some cases for a second time, in such a short time”.

Documentation recently sent to asylum seekers who have pending applications, seen by TheJournal.ie, explains that the new streamlined system will be “a single application procedure which enables all grounds for seeking international protection (refugee status) and permission to remain in the state for other reasons to be examined and determined in one consecutive process”.

The documentation sent to applicants by the IPO outlines that if they are unsuccessful in their case to seek refugee status “the Minister [for Justice] will no longer write to you inviting you to make representations as to why you should be granted permission to remain in the state. The decision will be made based on the information and papers already provided in your case”.

The International Protection Act was passed by the previous coalition government to streamline the asylum system. The reforms mean the new IPO will have to go through all the re-submitted asylum cases.

The IPO office has told asylum-seekers in information packs sent out last month that their first initial interview under the new system “may not be scheduled for a number of months due to the large number of applications to be processed by the IPO”.

Confusion among asylum-seekers

Ellie Kisyombe said she feels the Department of Justice deliberately makes the asylum system difficult to navigate “to try to make people not to come to Ireland” to apply for refugee status.

She said that there’s been a lack of information given to asylum-seekers on what’s going on regarding recent changes. “People have been sent back the forms to start all over again. People do not understand what is going on. We don’t know why they decided to do that. That’s when you have to understand when something is not right … I would like to see a transparent system,” she said.

Last year 2,644 people applied for asylum in Ireland, but figures from the Department of Justice show just 17% of those cases ‘received positive recommendations’ for refugee status at their initial case interview with an immigration officer.

In 2015 just 12% of the 1,231 asylum applicants received an initial recommendation for international protection status from immigration officials, with the rest entering the lengthy appeals process.

The slow process of accepting asylum seekers has been criticised by FLAC, the Free Legal Advice Centre. Sinéad Lucey, the legal advice group’s managing solicitor, said the current system has been dogged by a “level of egregious delay in decision-making”.

Read: Rule change should lead to less time in Direct Provision centres for asylum seekers>

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