Senators seek expanded family reunification rights for refugees

The change would allow for the reunification of grandparents, siblings and cousins

Senators Lynn Ruane, Colette Kelleher and Frances Black at the proposal of the new Bill. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Senators Lynn Ruane, Colette Kelleher and Frances Black at the proposal of the new Bill. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins


Several Senators have launched a Bill to allow refugees to bring their grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces and siblings to Ireland by expanding the reunification programme.

Currently under the International Protection Act, those granted refugee status in Ireland can apply for “family reunification” to bring their spouses, parents or children under the age of 18 to Ireland.

The Bill was brought forward by Independent Senators Colette Kelleher, Lynn Ruane, Alice-Mary Higgins and others, and will be debated in the Seanad on Wednesday night.

Speaking outside the Dáil today, Ms Kelleher said the group’s amendment would undo the unintended consequences of the International Protection Act, “which narrowed the definition of the family to the nuclear family and under-18-year-old dependents”.

The amendment has the support of several Independent Senators, as well as the Greens, Labour, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil in the Seanad, she said.

Ms Kelleher said if passed, the legislation would have a significant impact for refugees who have been given asylum in Ireland.

Refugees who have close family members “who could be in terrible peril” abroad should be allowed offer them safety in Ireland, Ms Kelleher said.

Syrian refugee

Mohammad (34) is a Syrian refugee who has been living in Ireland for nine years and works in Dublin as a security guard.

He has recently been granted permission to bring his mother and father over to Ireland from Syria under the family reunification scheme.

“Finally they came two weeks ago to Ireland. I’m so glad; they are so happy as well,” Mohammad said.

His parents were living without electricity or running water in Syria, and with little available food. He said at one stage that he lost contact with them for a full year and is often unable to make contact with them for months.

He said when his parents arrived in Ireland they could not believe there was 24-7 electricity, or hot running water.

Mohammad’s four siblings are still living in Syria, as they do not qualify under the current reunification programme. His 15-year-old brother and 17-year-old sister are living in the family home in Syria.

“Even my mother and father now, they are happy to be here, but their minds are still in Syria because they still have children in Syria,” he said.

Department of Justice figures up to October 2016 show 229 applications for family reunification were successful last year, out of 332 applications.

In 2015, 345 people were given permission to come to Ireland under the family programme, and 218 in 2014.

Marissa Ryan, head of advocacy at Oxfam Ireland, said the proposed amendment would allow refugees to apply to bring their grandparents, children over the age of 18, cousins, or nieces and nephews who are dependents to Ireland under the reunification scheme.