Ireland asked to take only 20 asylum seekers under EU plan

Government acknowledges ‘very low’ number of applications

Refugees use their sleeping blankets to keep warm as they walk along snow-covered fields near the Macedonian-Serbian border. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

Refugees use their sleeping blankets to keep warm as they walk along snow-covered fields near the Macedonian-Serbian border. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

 

Ireland has been asked to take in just 20 asylum seekers under a stuttering European Union scheme aimed at relocating 160,000 people from war-torn states such as Syria and Iraq.

The Government agreed to accept 2,600 asylum seekers under the initiative, which was designed to ease pressure on Greece and Italy by dispersing new arrivals across EU states.

But political and logistical obstacles, as well as low take-up, have resulted in just 322 people being relocated to date across the 28-country EU.

A Syrian family, due to arrive from Greece later this month, will be the first asylum seekers to come to Ireland under the programme.

In all, 20 applications have been made to the Irish authorities, a figure the Department of Justice acknowledged was “very low”.

In addition to the asylum seeker relocation programme, the Government has committed to taking in 520 refugees under a long-standing programme run in conjunction with the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

Some 176 refugees – 149 Syrians and 27 Iraqis – entered the State last year under this programme.

Of these, 67 have completed language and orientation training and have been resettled in counties Cork, Kerry, Laois and Tipperary.

In all, the Government has committed to receiving 4,000 people under relocation and resettlement programmes by the end of 2017.

Reluctance

European officials say political sensitivities are to blame for some EU states’ reluctance to implement the relocation scheme, which was adopted last October despite opposition from several central and eastern European capitals.

As of yesterday, 17 EU states had made available 4,237 places for asylum seekers out of the 160,000 that are supposed to be relocated, according to the European Commission.

“A number of member states have failed to fully deliver on what we need to do,” commission president Jean- Claude Juncker said last week.

Critics have argued that even the 160,000 figure is inadequate, given that more than a million refugees and migrants arrived in the EU by land and sea last year, making it the worst crisis of forced displacement on the continent since the second World War.

Take-up

Low take-up among those landing in Greece and Italy has also undermined the scheme.

Aid agencies report that many new arrivals are reluctant to apply for asylum in Greece or Italy – a prerequisite for entering the relocation scheme – either because they fear they will be stuck in those countries or do not wish to move to certain EU states.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said the relatively small number of people applying for asylum at the designated “hot spots”, or processing centres, in southern Europe was a reason for the low intake by Ireland and other countries.

The UNCHR said smugglers were telling people not to apply for relocation, claiming they would not be allowed to leave Greece if they did.

Jody Clarke, spokesman for the agency in Ireland, said it was working with the Greek authorities and other partners to provide information to people as they arrived.

“Asylum seekers need to see it working as well, so that they know they will be going to a safe place,” he said.

Greek authorities are finalising the transportation of the first Syrian family to come to Ireland under the programme.

After registration they will be housed in the Hazel Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, while their fast-track application for refugee status is assessed.