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Taoiseach Simon Harris Alamy Stock Photo
EU borders

Taoiseach keeping 'an open mind' about outsourcing asylum processing to non-EU countries

Harris stressed that any policy adopted must be “human rights compliant”.


TAOISEACH SIMON HARRIS has said Ireland should “keep an open mind” in relation to the practice of offshoring the processing of asylum seekers in countries outside the European Union. 

The measure was proposed in the manifesto of the European People’s Party, the EU Parliament group of which Fine Gael is a part, earlier this year.  

“I think we should have a very open mind in relation to this,” Harris said when asked by The Journal if Fine Gael would be in favour of outsourcing asylum claim processing through deals with third countries similar to one Italy recently agreed with Albania. 

“If you look at the Migration Pact, and many of the things that it’s envisaging, this whole issue of processing is a live issue that needs to be teased through,” Harris said. 

He described migration as “a global challenge” that Ireland cannot expect to address unilaterally. 

“This idea that Ireland, a small island on the geographic periphery of Europe, can consider how best to address the global migration challenge on its own, rather than be part of a composite conversation, series of laws and processing systems at European level to me would seem misplaced.”

He stressed that any policy adopted must be “human rights compliant”. 

“The crucial point that Ireland will always adopt, and I think there’s a political consensus around this point, is that anything that is done in relation to migration policy and processing has to be human rights compliant.”

Concern within the Greens 

The Taoiseach’s comments have caused concern within the Green Party, with European election candidate MEP Ciaran Cuffe stating on X: 

The shameful Tory Rwanda policy has no place in Ireland. We need humane & effective migration policies. Seriously concerning comments by An Taoiseach.

Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman stopped short of stating that he agreed with the Taoiseach when asked by reporters this afternoon at Bloom Festival.

He said the focus of government is strengthening our own system here in Ireland.

“You look at the UK, they’ve been selling this notion that there’s another country solution to the pressures of migration through the Rwanda scheme. It never worked. It has never delivered. So I would think, and the focus of government up to this point, has been strengthening, delivering, growing our own capacity to process people’s applications, and getting their answer more quickly,” he said.

Ireland has, in the past, been critical of the Australian asylum system which is very similar to the plan put forward by the EPP, but Harris said that the Government under his leadership has not criticised Australia’s immigration policy. 

The Australian system sees immigrants held in detention centres (both on Australian soil but also in other countries) while they wait for their claims to be processed. 

The practice has been condemned by human rights organisations and Doctors Without Borders said after visiting one centre on the Island nation of Nauru in 2017 that they found an “alarming” rate of suicide-related behaviour among the detainees. 

In an assessment of Australian policies submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in January 2021, the Irish Government said it “remained concerned” about the “mandatory detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers, particularly under offshore processing systems”. 

Ireland recommended Australia review the legislation governing those practices “and halt the use of offshore detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru”.

The EPP proposal is similar to the Rwanda policy of the UK, which is yet to come into effect, but differs in that the people deported from the UK will not be able to return even if their asylum claim is accepted. 

Harris said that while his government has not criticised Australia, he does have concerns about the legality of “other countries’” systems, an apparent reference to the UK. 

“There have been other countries, and I’m not referencing Australia, where we’d have very significant concerns around the compliance of their actions with the ECHR, and with human rights, so anything in this space would have to be human rights compliant.”

There are other states that operate a system of outsourcing asylum. Some of the Gulf nations like the UAE have such deals, but the reference to the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) leaves little doubt about which country Harris was referring to. 

“I’m conscious of electoral politics,” he said when pressed on which country he meant.

“But look, I think Ireland always says it’s up to every country to decide its human rights compliance. But I think anything that would be done by any country that wouldn’t be compliant with ECHR and human rights would be a cause of concern for Ireland.”

The UK Government’s Rwanda policy, which was delayed due to being struck down by the courts and subjected to multiple amendments, will see asylum seekers deported from the country and sent to Rwanda for their claims to be processed. 

If their claim is successful, they will be permitted to stay in Rwanda. If unsuccessful, they will be sent back to their country of origin. 

In order to force the bill through, the Conservative government had to amend the law to label Rwanda a “safe country”, which the UK courts had decided it was not. 

With reporting by Christina Finn

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