Government queried on `dramatic drop' in asylum referrals


A committee of Ireland's Catholic bishops has called on the Government to explain the "dramatic drop" in referrals of asylum-seekers coming through Rosslare after November 20th.

They also asked whether a policy or practice of pre-emptive exclusion was being enforced in Rosslare or elsewhere.

At a press conference in Dublin yesterday Bishop Fiachra O Ceallaigh said that from November 20th, when the amended Refugee Act 1996 came into operation, at Rosslare "the numbers of refugees dropped from an average 11/17 per sailing, to none".

Bishop John Kirby said it was "quite disingenuous to operate the present pre-emptive exclusion policy". Both bishops are members of the Irish Bishops' Committee on Asylum and Refugees.

They had sought an urgent meeting with the Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, on the matter, but last Wednesday he said he would be unable to meet them before January 8th.

????O Ceallaigh, explaining why they held the press conference.

The bishops called on the Government "to rectify the lack of transparency in procedures at the stage when people are attempting to enter the State in order to make their applications for asylum" and "to establish effective independent monitoring of those procedures and practices without delay".

Mr Peter O'Mahony of the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) said a group, including the IRC, had been refused permission to monitor admissions of asylum seekers at Dublin Airport by the Department of Justice, even though it had secured EU funding to do so.

The bishops said that, according to South Eastern Health Board (SEHB) figures, "the average number of asylum seekers arriving on each sailing from Cherbourg to Rosslare (as measured by the numbers referred to the SEHB) was eight in July, rising to 17 in the period 1st to 19th of November.

"However, since 20th of November no asylum seekers were let ashore from 10 out of 12 sailings (to 17th December inclusive). Only one person was referred to the health board from each of the remaining two sailings."

It also appeared that on the November 22nd sailing, 22 passengers were refused permission to land and on the November 29th sailing 11 were refused, they said.

In the absence of any other reason for such abrupt change, the bishops said "the commonsense explanation would appear to be that . . . the Irish immigration authorities have introduced a new practice and/or policy of pre-emptive exclusion of asylum seekers."