Refugees in Ireland face struggle to reunite with families after legal change

International Protection Act causes concern amid ‘refugee and migration crisis’

Refugee crisis: migrants arrive on the northern shore of the Greek island of Lesbos in 2015.  Legislation enacted that year has made it harder for the families of refugees and migrants to join them in Ireland. Photograph: Tyler Hicks/New York Times

Refugee crisis: migrants arrive on the northern shore of the Greek island of Lesbos in 2015. Legislation enacted that year has made it harder for the families of refugees and migrants to join them in Ireland. Photograph: Tyler Hicks/New York Times

 

Concern has been expressed that recent legislation has made it harder for the families of refugees and migrants to join them in Ireland.

Under the International Protection Act 2015 refugees now have to prove that they can financially support any dependants whom they apply to bring into the State. Reunifiying families is a critical part of integrating migrants and refugees into a new country, according to European Migration Network Ireland, whose research was published on Tuesday by the Economic & Social Research Institute.

Family reunification “helps to ensure the protection and wellbeing of refugees and their family members. In the current context it is clearly important that refugees are able to access safe legal avenues to Ireland,” said Samantha Arnold, one of the researchers.

Under the legal change “it may be more difficult for refugee sponsors to be joined by extended family such as grandparents or siblings of adult sponsors,” according to Ms Arnold and her fellow researcher, Emma Quinn.

“While the restrictions bring Ireland’s system closer in line to most other EU member states’, the changes have raised concerns in light of the current refugee and migration crisis.”

First residence permits issued for family-related reasons made up the smallest category of permits issued in 2015, after education and employment. In contrast, permits issued for family-related reasons formed the largest category of permits issued in the EU.

In 2015, 25,632 residence permits – 23 per cent of the total – were held in Ireland by family members from outside the European Economic Area. In the EU as a whole, family accounted for 38 per cent of total residence permits.

The researchers found, however, that the number of first residence permits issued for family reasons in the State has increased steadily since 2012.

Unlike most other EU countries, where an EU directive applies, Ireland operates family reunification for nonrefugees as an administrative scheme without a legislative basis.

Ms Arnold, whose study was financially supported by the EU and the Department of Justice, noted that the UN Refugee Agency and a number of NGOs had called for the expansion of legal routes to safe countries.

“While the narrowing of eligible family members and introduction of a time limit for applications in the 2015 Act brings Ireland more into line with other member states, the absence of a statutory scheme for nonrefugees is unusual within the EU and leaves nonrefugees without a clear path to reunification with family members,” she said.