Airport operation to block Albanians, Georgians from claiming asylum is ‘scaled back’

The tougher immigration checks at Dublin Airport saw a sharp drop in asylum claims

It was decided Albanians and Georgians would be checked by immigration officers or gardaí going to the steps of the aircraft to meet them. Photograph: Kate Geraghty

It was decided Albanians and Georgians would be checked by immigration officers or gardaí going to the steps of the aircraft to meet them. Photograph: Kate Geraghty

 

A heightened system of immigration checks at Dublin Airport that had sought to block Albanian and Georgian nationals entering the Republic to claim asylum has been scaled back.

The operation involved a tougher approach to stopping Albanians and Georgians and insisting airlines fly them back to the country they had flown in from before they could signal they were applying for international protection.

Almost immediately after the checks were introduced, the record number of Albanians and Georgians applying for international protection in the Republic slowed to a trickle.

Last September some 191 Albanians applied for asylum, the highest ever monthly total after applications had been rising for six years.

But when immigration checks were severely tightened at Dublin Airport, the number of applications reduced to 90 in October and just seven in November.

Similarly, applications from Georgians reached a record high of 117 last September. That reduced by half, to 58 applications, in October and fell to just 17 applications in November.

When news of the operation emerged in The Irish Times, a number of migrants’ rights group criticised it and said they believed the operation was contrary to international conventions and domestic law.

Several security sources have now said they believed the heightened checks at Dublin Airport had been completely stopped, though Garda sources insisted the practice had been “scaled back” rather than ceased.

The same Garda sources said that although the checks were no longer happening with the same frequency as before, they could still be carried out on an intelligence-led basis.

That effectively means if information was available to the Garda or immigration officials suggesting Albanians or Georgians were arriving on a flight specifically to claim international protection, the authorities reserved the right to move in and refuse them entry to the State.

Gang investigated

The checks at Dublin Airport can be carried out by both gardaí and staff in the Border Management Unit, which is part of the Department of Justice’s Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service.

Garda sources added that a gang arranging for Albanians and Georgians to come to Ireland had also been investigated and they believed that inquiry had added to the decline in international protection application claims late last year.

A Garda spokesman said immigration checks in general were regularly refined depending on new information becoming available and new trends emerging.

Late last year Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was criticised by migrants’ rights groups when he said Albanians and Georgians were arriving at Dublin Airport with false travel documents.

He added that Ireland was not taking in more migrants seeking international protection than other countries. However, he said the number of Albanians and Georgians seeking protection in the Republic was such that it accounted for a significant percentage of all international protection applications.

The Department of Justice last year said it was concerned about the rise in applications for international protection by people from safe countries of origin. A country is given “safe country of origin” status if the Government believes that nation is stable and that people from it should typically not require international protection.

Destroying documents

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan late last year said many Georgians and Albanians disembarking flights in Dublin were destroying their travel documents before reaching the booths in the terminal building where passports were checked.

For that reason it was decided Albanians and Georgians would be checked by immigration officers or gardaí going to the steps of aircraft to meet them.

Under this new, stricter system, unless newly arriving Albanians and Georgians were in possession of all the necessary travel documents to enter Ireland, they were refused entry. The airlines that had flown them to Ireland were told to fly them back to the country they had flown in from.

The checks carried out at the aircraft steps effectively meant more Albanians and Georgians were stopped and turned back before they had an opportunity to inform immigration officials they wanted to apply for international protection.