Government urged to resolve migrant dispute with Italy

Ireland yet to take any of 700 asylum seekers it pledged to receive under relocation scheme

A crew member checks equipment on board the Migrant Offshore Aid Station  Phoenix vessel off the coast of Italy.  Photograph:  Chris McGrath/Getty Images

A crew member checks equipment on board the Migrant Offshore Aid Station Phoenix vessel off the coast of Italy. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

 

in Strasbourg The European Commission has urged the Government to resolve a dispute with the Italian authorities over the relocation of asylum seekers.

Ireland has yet to take any of the 700 asylum seekers it pledged to receive from Italy under a relocation scheme.

A standoff has developed between Irish and Italian authorities over the Government’s desire to carry out its own advance security checks on asylum seekers who are eligible for relocation under the EU programme.

Ireland agreed to take in 2,600 migrants from camps in Greece and Italy under the scheme, but while 459 have been relocated from Greece to date none have come from Italy.

Greek and Italian authorities carry out their own security checks on asylum seekers before declaring them eligible for relocation, but the Government, along with a number of other EU states, is demanding that it be allowed conduct its own security assessment, including interviews, for each individual before they are allowed travel to Ireland.

An agreement to that effect has been struck with Greece but not with Italy.

In its latest report on the relocation scheme, which was agreed at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015 to ease pressure on southern EU states, the commission urges the Government and the Italian authorities to find “mutually acceptable solutions on additional security interviews in order for relocations to start as soon as possible”.

Strict policy

The report notes that Ireland, along with Estonia, has not relocated anybody from Italy yet due to “Italy’s strict policy regarding additional security interviews by [receiving] member states”.

The commission says member states wishing to carry out their own security checks, including Ireland, should “show flexibility and find mutually acceptable solutions” in order not to slow down the relocation process.

The Department of Justice confirmed that relocation from Italy had yet to begin and said this was due to “issues with the Italian authorities surrounding the security assessment” of migrants under the scheme. “Intensive efforts are ongoing to resolve this, both bilaterally with Italian counterparts at official, diplomatic and ministerial level, and at EU level, including through the European Commission,” a spokesman said.

It is understood the dispute is primarily with the Italian police and security services, but despite positive contacts at diplomatic level in recent weeks, there is no immediate prospect of a breakthrough.

Pressed on why the Government was unwilling to accept arrangements that other EU member states found satisfactory, a Dublin official said Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald had given a commitment that the Republic would carry out security checks on anyone being relocated to the State.

The official pointed out that other EU states were members of the Schengen area, which meant people in Italy already had the right to travel freely to their jurisdictions, but this was not true of the Republic, which is outside Schengen. Dublin voluntarily opted into the programme, but the UK refused to participate.

Probable shortfall

It is understood that in light of the dispute with Italian authorities, the Government will look to increase the numbers it is taking from Greece so as to make up the probable shortfall.

The Republic has so far taken in 459 asylum seekers from Greece, but while the rate of new arrivals has picked up in recent months, the State will struggle to meet its target of 2,622 from Greece and Italy by September, when the scheme ends.

Under a separate resettlement scheme, which is open to people already registered as refugees, mainly in Lebanon and Jordan, Ireland pledged to take in 1,040 individuals by the end of this year. The State is on track to fulfil that pledge ahead of schedule.