Less than 7 per cent of the more than 4,500 deportation orders issued in the last five years have been seen through by force, according to Department of Justice figures.
A further 9.2 per cent of failed asylum seekers left the country themselves after their applications were unsuccessful, leaving some 3,900 people, more than 80 per cent, with an unknown status. Security sources said a large proportion of these applicants would have left the State without telling the authorities, but the exact figure is impossible to determine.
In total, 4,631 deportation orders were issued by the Government to people whose asylum applications were rejected between 2018 and last year. Gardaí enforced 314 such orders, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Department of Justice assisted another 430 people to self-deport, according to separate figures released in response to a parliamentary question. This is done by referring failed asylum seekers to the International Office for Migration (IOM) which assists them with voluntarily returning to their country of origin.
Asked about the issue, the department said many other people leave the country “of their own accord”. A spokeswoman said forced deportations were only carried out as a “last resort, where the person concerned has not removed themselves or engaged with the IOM to avail of assisted voluntary return measures”.
Just 26 deportations were carried out by force last year, representing some 5 per cent of the deportation orders issued.
[ Sharp decrease in number of asylum seekers arriving in Ireland recorded ]
The highest number of forced deportations were carried out in 2019, when 155 people (some 6.7 per cent of total deportation orders issued) were escorted out of the State by gardaí.
“Deportation and removal processes are an essential part of any immigration system; it must be acknowledged that those who do not have a legal right to remain in this country must return to their own country, following fair procedure and having gone through all available avenues for appeal,” the department spokeswoman said.
“A person subject to a deportation order has no legal basis to remain in the State. Their case to remain in the State has been considered in detail and all available appeals processes have been exhausted.”
She said deportation orders were not enforced during the Covid-19 pandemic, “except in cases of individuals whose presence in Ireland would be contrary to the public interest”. Just 33 such orders were issued in 2020, with five forced deportations and 33 self-deportations recorded.
[ St Patrick's story resonates with stories of migrants today, says Higgins ]
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil earlier this month that “work is being done to increase the number of deportations to countries of transit and countries of origin”. He said deportations were difficult to carry out “and you can only ever do a certain number”.
However, he said the deportations carried out had “an important deterrent effect”.
“If people believe that if they come to the country, claim international protection and have no prospect of being deported, this will increase the number of people who come here invalidly.”
Separately, 24 people were removed from Ireland last year under the Dublin Convention, which states asylum seekers must seek refugee status in the first safe country they arrive in.
“While the numbers of transfers effected appear low, it should be noted that Dublin regulation transfers can be challenging to enforce due to a number of factors, including potential legal challenges and transfer arrangements which need to be made with the returning country,” Minister for Justice Simon Harris said earlier this month.