‘Significant’ increase in number of people seeking protection in Ireland

Applications returning to pre-pandemic levels, says Roderic O’Gorman

 Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman: ‘There is no end to the conflicts around the world which people are fleeing.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman: ‘There is no end to the conflicts around the world which people are fleeing.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

There has been a “significant” increase in the number of people seeking international protection under the direct provision system, returning to pre-pandemic levels in recent months, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman has said.

While the number of people seeking protection in Ireland dipped in line with overall trends in international travel and mobility last year, the number of applicants in November was the highest since 2015.

Last month 333 people applied for protection in the State, up from 44 in 2020. It marks a return to levels more in line with pre-pandemic norms across the board in recent months, Mr O’Gorman said.

On average just 60 people per month applied for international protection in 2020. From July this year the average is 241 per month, returning towards the pre-pandemic average of 320 per month.

“It’s a big increase on 2020, which was significantly down, but even in terms of 2019, which was a significant year, there’s a significant increase,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“[Due to] the greater openness on international transport and international travel, it seems more and more people being able to access the State and seek international protection. We know there is no end to the conflicts around the world which people are fleeing,” Mr O’Gorman said.

The higher level of applications is increasing pressure on the direct provision system, which is due to be replaced by the end of 2024 under Government plans.

Mr O’Gorman said the figures pose a “challenge in terms of accommodation”.

“We’re hoping in January to undertake a significant new tendering process to provide better accommodation in terms of allowing us move away from the types of emergency reception centres that have been used since 2019, but also allow for the accommodation of additional people seeking international protection,” he said, adding that the focus will be on obtaining “own door or own room accommodation” for international protection applicants.

Reception centres

The increase in applications will also put pressure on the State to carry out vulnerability assessments of people coming into the system here, which began at the start of 2021 after a period where Ireland was criticised for not carrying out the assessments, in breach of its legal obligations.

As well as making progress on the provision of own-door accommodation for applicants, Mr O’Gorman said he was seeking to advance the delivery of five dedicated reception integration centres.

“This year the focus is on the building blocks, I’m hoping that next year we’ll be able to see the delivery of the first units of accommodation through purchase and also starting to put in place planning applications and the like for the delivery of both that community accommodation, but also the reception and integration centres.”

Asked about the legacy of the direct provision system, Mr O’Gorman said it was “built on expediency, not on the protection of human rights”.

“When you are dealing with people who are fleeing international strife, the response to them should be based on human rights,” he said. “It became part of the status quo and wasn’t adequately challenged within Government.”