Backlog mounts as 7,762 people seek asylum in 1999


Almost 8,000 people claimed asylum in Ireland last year, with more than half the applications made in the past four months, according to provisional figures from the Department of Justice.

The number of asylum claims made in 1999 is almost double the total for 1997, and about 3,100 more than in 1998.

The Department of Justice has more than doubled the number of staff working on the asylum process to deal with a backlog of more than 8,700 cases. Some 300 staff have now been sanctioned, compared to 14 in the area in January 1997.

The Government's target is to reduce the waiting time for a decision on an asylum application to six months from the current average of 18 months or more.

The 1999 provisional figures show that 7,762 people applied for asylum, or refugee status, in the State. More than half of these - 4,254 claims - were made in the four months from September to December.

Some 1,255 people made asylum applications last December, with 1,010 in November, 1,051 in October and 938 in September. This compares with 234 in January, the same number in February, 358 in March and 315 in April.

More than 900 people have been granted asylum in the State since 1992, and many applications are currently under appeal.

A Department of Justice spokesman said the increase in applications in the second half of the year was caused by a variety of factors, including the strong economy, attractive social welfare rates and the fact that the Minister had no deportation powers for most of the year due to a legal challenge.

A further factor was the "deliberate misrepresentation" by traffickers of the right to work granted last summer to some asylum-seekers as applying to all of them, he said.

About one-tenth of the estimated total of asylum applicants for last year entered through the Co Wexford port of Rosslare. Others arrived through Dun Laoghaire and from the North.

The largest single group of asylum-seekers to land in the State to date arrived at Rosslare on a ferry from France on New Year's Eve. The 59 people, mostly Romanians, are currently being housed in emergency accommodation in Carne, about 15 miles outside Wexford.

Their arrival brings to between 700 and 800 the total number of asylum-seekers to arrive through the port last year, according to Supt Tom Saunderson from Wexford Garda station.

He said 178 asylum-seekers arrived last December, which was a "very significant increase" on previous months. "The numbers fluctuate, but it's putting a big drain on Garda resources," he said.

According to Supt Saunderson, the latest group of 59 asylum-seekers identified themselves to cabin crew on the ferry from Cherbourg while at sea, instead of trying to make their way inland before claiming asylum.

He said: "Heretofore, they were more inclined to conceal themselves in lorries and to try to get out around the country. The fact that they identified themselves indicates they are more aware of the procedures.

"They know when they arrive here that they are entitled to have their applications processed and they won't be sent straight back."

Full statistics for 1999, including the number of applications granted, refused and appealed, will be issued at the end of this week, according to the Department spokesman.

While a full ethnic breakdown of the asylum-seekers in 1999 is not yet available, Romanians and Nigerians together accounted for more than half the immigrants who applied for asylum until last October.