British ‘Rwanda’ immigration policy sees spike in numbers seeking asylum in Ireland

Asylum arrivals into Ireland during first five months of 2022 up 700 per cent

The British government’s controversial policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing has contributed to the huge spike in the numbers of people arriving in Ireland and applying for international protection, according to multiple sources in Government.

The scheme would see asylum seekers sent to Rwanda where they could then have their requests for international protection assessed and potentially be given refugee status. However, the European Court of Human Rights made a dramatic 11th-hour intervention on Tuesday night after lawyers for one of the asylum seekers due to fly this evening made a successful emergency application to the ECHR.

In addition to a 700 per cent increase of arrivals into Ireland during the first five months of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021, a marked change in profile of the nationalities suggests that more asylum seekers are coming to the State as an alternative to Britain or as a possible backdoor route to the UK, to circumvent its tougher immigration policies.

One in five of those who seek protection in Ireland are Somalis, who have traditionally had strong links to Britain.

In the first five months of this year some 4,896 applications for international protection were made. While this is a seven-fold increase on the same period last year, the pandemic significantly suppressed applications as international travel ground to a near halt. However, the numbers in the first five months of this year are still more than double the 1,852 applications made in the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.

Furthermore, the rate at which new applications are now being made is increasing significantly month to month, which is causing concern within Government.

In January 392 applications were lodged, followed by 751 in February and 1,039 in March. No monthly breakdown is available for April and May, though the Department of Justice has confirmed 2,714 applications were made in that two-month period, averaging 1,357 a month.

In the period to the end of March, of the 2,182 applications made, some 20 per cent were from Somalis, or 445 applications. There were 220 applications from Georgians, 202 from Algerians, 186 from Nigerians and 165 from Ukrainians as well as 954 from “other”, not specified, countries.

Government sources said that at the current trajectory, the number of people who will seek asylum in 2022 will exceed the previous annual record of almost 12,000 20 years ago. The then government responded by introducing direct provision and also a citizenship referendum, which removed the rights of residency to those born in Ireland to foreign national parents.

While people from Ukraine are permitted to live in the Republic at present without going through the international protection process, some are opting to apply through that system. That is perhaps an indication they want to secure status here to remain permanently.

Security sources said it was impossible, as of yet, to prove why such a sudden increase was taking place but they believed the British government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was now a “significant pull factor” towards the Republic.

“They may be coming here with a view to settling here long term or many might be planning travel on to Britain and using Ireland as a back door,” said one source. “A lot of people will have family or contacts in Britain — established communities from their own country — and it’s likely Britain will still be the intended final destination even if they are coming to Ireland first.”

The same sources noted that in the period before the pandemic a special policing operation was put in place to reduce the number of Georgians and Albanians coming to Ireland to claim international protection. At one point they accounted for about half of all applications despite the Irish Government classifying both nations as “same countries of origin” meaning people from those nations would not typically require protection.

Senior sources in Government said the British government’s Rwandan policy was a factor but the spike in numbers “could not be entirely attributable to it”. They pointed to the return of unrestricted air travel as another cause for the surge.

Deportations from Ireland were paused during the Covid pandemic and have not been resumed. It takes between 17 months and two years for a first determination to be made on asylum status. However, if the person appeals, the process can take up to five years, during which time the person is entitled to remain in the State.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times