Whistleblower’s appeal for asylum in Ireland unlikely to be granted
Letter was one of 21 requests to states across Europe, Asia and South America
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is not clear why he picked Ireland as a possible destination. Photograph: Reuters, the Guardian
The letter arrived at the Irish Embassy on Moscow’s Grokholski Pereulok Street yesterday morning. In it, American whistleblower Edward Snowden outlined his wish to seek asylum in Ireland – and the reasons behind that request, including the “risks of persecution” he believes he would face in the US.
Snowden is sought on charges that he violated the espionage act when gathering and leaking classified documents detailing the National Security Agency’s surveillance programmes. The document’s journey to the Irish Embassy’s letterbox was not straightforward. It was one of 21 formal requests for asylum Snowden, who remains confined without travel documents at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, drew up for countries across Europe, Asia and South America. His initial applications were to Ecuador and Iceland. Additional letters were drafted to Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela.
WikiLeaks’ legal adviser Sarah Harrison delivered the documents to an official at the Russian consulate at the airport. Consulate officials then distributed the letters to the relevant embassies, including Ireland’s. It is not clear why Snowden picked Ireland as a possible destination. “I don’t have specific details as to why Mr Snowden chose Ireland as one of the countries where he is seeking asylum,” WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told The Irish Times.
Contrary to reports in several international media outlets yesterday, Irish officials did not reject the request outright, but referred to legislation stating only “a person who arrives at the frontiers of the State” can apply for asylum in Ireland.
During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny reiterated that point. He said that if a valid application was made by Snowden it would be dealt with by Irish authorities in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
Snowden has accused Washington of unilaterally revoking his passport, and has argued that the move renders him a stateless person. This claim has been rejected by US officials who insist they have cancelled the validity of Snowden’s travel document, not deprived him of citizenship, and offered him a “one-entry travel document” to return home.
Ecuador, which initially provided Snowden with a “laissez-passer”, a temporary letter of passage requesting a country allow those without other identity papers to cross international borders, has now reportedly withdrawn the document, leaving the whistleblower in limbo at Sheremetyevo airport.
In a post on the humanrights.ie blog yesterday, UCD law lecturer Liam Thornton explained that even if Snowden was to somehow make his way to Ireland, his asylum bid would face several obstacles. “Given the low rate of acceptance of refugee and subsidiary protection claims in Ireland, as well as the direct provision system in place, Mr Snowden might want to think twice about making any such journey to Ireland,” he wrote.
All that is hypothetical. As Thornton points out, there is nothing preventing the Irish Government from issuing travel documents to Snowden to enable him travel to Ireland where he could claim asylum.
“Is that going to happen? No, it will never come to pass because of the political circumstances of the case,” says Thornton.
The US has warned countries against granting asylum to the man whose disclosures have caused damage at home and abroad. As his options dwindle, Snowden’s best bet probably lies with a country with historically strained relations with the US.