Rise in people from war-torn countries refused entry to State

Irish Refugee Council says number of refugees denied ‘leave to land’ is ‘very concerning’

 A new dedicated immigration facility at Dublin Airport, announced in 2017, is not yet completed. Photograph:   Kate Geraghty

A new dedicated immigration facility at Dublin Airport, announced in 2017, is not yet completed. Photograph: Kate Geraghty

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There has been a significant increase in the number of nationals from some of the world’s top refugee-producing countries being refused entry to Ireland during the pandemic, even though total numbers fell sharply during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nationals from Eritrea, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries experiencing war have been refused “leave to land” in Ireland at a far greater rate during 2020 and 2021 than during pre-pandemic years, according to figures obtained by investigative website the Detail.

For example, 180 Eritrean nationals were refused entry to Ireland throughout 2020, with an additional 250 refusals in the first six months of 2021 alone. That is up from only 25 refusals in 2019. These changes mean that Eritreans have gone from the 23rd most commonly refused nationality to Ireland in 2019, to the top most refused in 2021.

The number of Syrian nationals refused entry more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, from 70 to 150, with a further 123 refusals so far this year. More people were refused entry from Yemen (40) in the first six months of this year than from 2016 to 2019 combined.

This marked increase in “leave to land” refusals, up to 15 times greater than normal for some nationalities, has occurred despite the general downturn of travel to Ireland.

Overall entry refusals subsequently also dropped considerably, by more than 60 per cent between 2019 and 2020. Entry refusals for countries like South Africa, Brazil or the United States, which regularly take top spots in terms of refusals, have dropped considerably during the pandemic.

“These figures are very concerning”, said Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council. “People from countries which are demonstrably unsafe and in conflict were refused leave to land. Refusals have actually increased for countries such as Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Eritrea.”

Mr Henderson said the Government has an obligation to be proactive in ensuring effective access to the asylum procedure, including during the pandemic. This includes a duty to identify persons who may wish to apply for international protection, inform them about the right to apply for asylum and provide them with the information on how to make an application.

Applications for asylum

The department of Justice said each case of a person who has been refused leave to land is assessed on its own merits, taking all relevant information into consideration.

“The purpose of the checks is to prevent illegal entry to the State and to disrupt activities that are often highly organised involving exploitation of the persons concerned,” it said.

Those who are returned to their country of departure, which in the “vast majority” of cases is to another EU state, are done so in accordance with the law, it said.

People refused entry can claim asylum and continue to be admitted to the international protection process, but the department said it does not keep statistics in respect of those refused entry who subsequently made asylum applications.

The Irish Refugee Council said in a report last April that while there have been no official reports of “push backs” of people wishing to claim asylum, anecdotal evidence “suggests that some people may be refused leave to land and to enter Ireland even when they have grounds for protection”.

“Due to the lack of independent oversight and transparency at airports or ports of entry, it is unclear whether or not a person refused leave to land had protection grounds or had intended to apply for asylum,” it said.

The Immigration Act 2004 sets out 12 grounds on which an individual can be refused “leave to land”, or permission to enter the State. These include not having a valid visa or passport, or intending to take up employment without a valid employment permit, and does not cover people being denied entry on Covid-19 grounds.

People cannot appeal refusals and charities in Ireland have long raised concerns about the allegedly subjective nature of decisions and limits to legal representation, with some calling for an independent oversight and monitoring mechanism at Ireland’s main airports. A new dedicated immigration facility at Dublin Airport, announced in 2017, is not yet completed.

The department and the Garda did not respond to requests for details of how many people were detained in prisons or Garda stations in 2020 and 2021 following leave to land refusals .

The department said arrangements are made to return persons to their country of departure “at the earliest opportunity”, and that they are detained “only after all other possible options have been considered”.

The Irish Prison Service said 245 people were held in prisons in respect of immigration issues in 2020. While a breakdown of reasons for being detained was not given, in previous years the most common offences were failing to have a valid visa or passport.

Ireland is largely alone in Europe for detaining people in prisons for immigration offences and was criticised by the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee last year.