Asylum-seeker amnesty sought

 

The Government should grant an amnesty to all asylum-seekers who arrived in the State last year as a gesture for the millennium, a Franciscan-run refugee project has said.

Father Gerry Raftery, the Franciscan justice director at the Merchant's Quay Project in Dublin, said such a humane move would give the Government "breathing space" to deal with the growing numbers of asylum-seekers.

If current trends continue, up to 12,000 further asylum-seekers and their families could arrive in the State next year.

Volunteers at the Merchant's Quay Project provide language classes, legal advice and support services to some 120 asylum-seekers and refugees from Eastern Europe.

Father Raftery says: "There's a cynicism, unfortunately, I have noticed among officials. I know they are all over-stretched and, because they come across people doing the fiddle, they are developing a suspicion of all asylum-seekers."

Father Raftery acknowledged the increase in numbers of asylum-seekers. He said an amnesty would give the Government "an opportunity to put it right. The numbers grew quite quickly last year and we haven't been able to deal with it administratively. An amnesty would give them a breathing space."

He said such a move would be in keeping with the tradition of the biblical jubilee year, when slaves were set free. The Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, has said he will press ahead with plans to deport hundreds of asylum-seekers whose applications have been refused.

A legal problem prevented deportations being carried out for most of last year, and only two people have been deported in recent months since the law was amended.

In its most recent statement on asylum policy last month, the Department of Justice said it was pursuing readmission agreements with countries of origin.