Edward Snowden appeal: refugee Act grants status to people with ‘well-founded fear’ of persecution
More than 4,735 people currently seeking asylum in Ireland
An employee distributes newspapers, with a photograph of US former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden seen on a page, at an underground walkway in central Moscow yesterday. The headline reads: “Snowden will be nominated for Nobel”. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
In Ireland, a refugee is someone who has left their home country because of a “well-founded fear” of being persecuted and is unwilling to return to it because of that fear. The definition is included in the Refugee Act 1996 and is based on the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
The 1996 Act lists reasons for persecution as race, religion, nationality and membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Social group can include membership of a trade union or a group of people whose defining characteristic is their belonging to the female or male sex or having a particular sexual orientation.
It does not include a person about whom there are serious grounds for considering he or she has “committed a serious non-political crime outside the State”.
The Act also allows for the Government to invite a group of individuals to stay in Ireland, usually in response to a humanitarian crisis.
An asylum seeker is someone who is seeking to be recognised as a refugee. According to the most recent figures, there are 4,735 asylum seekers in Ireland waiting for the results of their applications to be granted refugee status. More than half of these have been waiting for more than three years.
On arrival in Ireland, an asylum-seeker makes an application for refugee status at a port or airport or, more commonly, directly at the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner in Dublin. The office was established under the 1996 Act and the Commissioner is required to investigate each asylum application lodged within the State and to make a recommendation to the Minister for Justice.
Applicants are fingerprinted and photographed and then referred to the Reception and Integration Agency which has responsibility for services provided to asylum seekers while they await a decision.
If an applicant is deemed to have met the requirements for refugee status under the Act, he or she can remain in Ireland and is protected against being returned to their country of origin. Refugee status includes a right to reunification of immediate family members and a refugee is entitled to work in Ireland, operate a business and to access medical, social-welfare and education services on the same basis as Irish citizens. If the application is rejected, an asylum-seeker can appeal to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. If that too is rejected, the Minister for Justice may give “leave to remain” on grounds including humanitarian ones.