Increase in asylum seeker applications probably ‘a permanent change’, says McEntee

Offering refugee status to Russians fleeing conscription would have to be examined in consultation with other EU states

The Government expects no let-up in the flow of asylum seekers into Ireland in the near future, with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee calling the increased numbers “a permanent change”.

There have been about 10,000 applications for international protection in Ireland so far this year, compared with 3,000-4,000 in previous years. This is on top of the 50,000 Ukrainian refugees currently staying in Ireland. It is estimated, based on current trends, another 10,000 will arrive from Ukraine before the end of the year.

“In terms of the international protection numbers, I do believe that this is probably a more permanent change,” Ms McEntee said. She noted that countries across Europe were seeing similar increases.

“I think it’s just a representation of the changing environment, a changing world and many global challenges that people are facing, including climate and war. So we need to be able to respond.”

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The Minister was speaking on Wednesday following the announcement in the budget of an additional €18 million in funding to speed up the process of applying for refugee status and “to reduce the risk of people remaining in the system for long periods with uncertainty about their status”.

This funding would go towards expanding the number of people processing with international protection applications, she said.

This is in addition to an extra €9.2 million to support Ukrainian refugees. Ms McEntee said the numbers arriving from Ukraine had now slowed down and future numbers would depend on what happens with the war there. “I think it’s very difficult for anybody to comprehend, or predict how things will happen over the next few weeks and months.”

Speaking on Sunday, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman said the State was in a “really difficult situation right now” when it came to finding accommodation for the asylum seekers arriving, which meant some people were being housed in tents and halls. In recent weeks some international protection applicants have been forced to sleep rough due to a lack of beds.

Regarding offering refugee status to Russians fleeing conscription in their home country, Ms McEntee said this needed to be examined in co-operation with other EU states.

“In the same way our response to Ukraine was a decision taken on a European level, I think something like this would have to be done in the same fashion.” She pointed out that Ireland had not closed its doors to Russians arriving here on visas.

The budget also contained an extra €9 million to fund the Government’s five-year “Zero Tolerance Plan” to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, bringing the total budget to €41 million.

Ms McEntee said some of this would go towards opening domestic violence refuges in the nine counties which currently did not have one.

However, by the end of the five-year period, Ireland still will not have reached the provision of refuge places mandated under the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, which Ireland ratified in 2019.

“We committed to doubling the number of refuge accommodations that we have but we’re doing that while being realistic that we have to put these building blocks in place,” the Minister said. She said another action plan would be required after five years to reach the Istanbul convention requirements.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times