Fourteen men found in the back of a truck on a Rosslare-bound ferry have claimed asylum in Ireland.
The men, believed to be Kurds, applied for International Protection (IP) status in the State after the were discovered in the trailer of the lorry while it was en route to the Co Wexford port on the Stena ferry from Cherbourg, France.
A further two people found in the truck, who are children and deemed unaccompanied minors, are now in the care of Tusla, the Garda said in a statement.
The adults in the group will now be processed by the International Protection Office, which is part of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS). It is thought that those who accept an offer of accommodation will be placed in the direct provision system, either in a dedicated centre or an emergency facility.
As part of the State’s asylum process, identifying information such as fingerprints will be taken from the migrants, and checked against databases of existing asylum applications made in the EU. Under the so-called Dublin convention, if any matches are detected, they will be returned to the country where they made their original asylum application. If there are no matches, they will remain in the Irish system.
The 16 people found in the truck, who are all male, are thought to be of Kurdish ethnicity from the Middle East, however formal identification is ongoing, gardaí said.
A source at the French Police Aux Frontières (border police), known by the acronym PAF, said the 16 will remain in Ireland if they request asylum there. "If they ask for asylum, they are protected by European conventions," he said
Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who is TD for Wexford, called for tighter scrutiny on all fronts and said there is a need to ensure that proper checks are carried out in ports and that they are "more thorough and vigorous."
He added that Thursday's incident brought back memories of the tragedy in Drinagh, Co Wexford in 2001 when the bodies of eight people, including four children, were found in a trailer.
The possibility of a tragedy remains and could happen at any time, he said on RTÉ’s Today with Séan O’Rourke programme.
On the same programme, policy manager for Northern Ireland with the UK Road Haulage Association John Martin, said that the discovery of the 16 on board the ferry highlighted the need for greater checks at ports.
There is understood to be growing concern amongst freight companies at the increasing frequency of people being discovered in trucks. One industry source told The Irish Times: “It’s an emerging trend and changes will have to be made in terms of checks.”
Freight trade sources said they were also concerned about the growing use of refrigerated trucks by stowaway migrants. The truck and trailer, which are owned by a company in the southeast, were photographed and examined by gardaí last night. The freight company, and the driver, a man in his 50s, were said to be assisting with inquiries.
The incident reinforced the concern that the Republic and Northern Ireland could become a backdoor into the UK, Mr Martin said. It was unfair that at present the onus is on operators and drivers to thwart illegal immigrants. Many had to purchase expensive high tech security measures.
The United Kingdom's first independent anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland, called for intervention to happen "way back upstream".
Migrants stow away on vessels bound for Ireland or the UK on average every week or two, though 16 is an unusually high number, the source at the PAF said. That large a contingent would occur perhaps once every four months.
Two Albanians who were caught on a vessel bound for the UK at the beginning of the week arrived back in Cherbourg on Wednesday.
“We consider these people victims,” said the source at the PAF. “There is always an administrative investigation, to know who they are, how they came to France, if they are really the nationality they say they are, whether they were exploited by a trafficking network.”
Officials at the PAF and the prefecture said all information concerning security measures at the port in Cherbourg is secret. The official at the Channel prefecture said most of the migrants caught on vessels bound for Ireland or the UK are Albanian, Afghan, Iraqi or Kurdish.
Officials in Cherbourg learned of the 16 migrants discovered on the ferry to Rosslare via email. Garda headquarters in Dublin communicates directly with the Direction Centrale de la Police aux Frontières in Rennes and the information goes down the line to Cherbourg.
“There is a lot of communication between Irish and French authorities,” the official at the PAF said. “Each country they pass through shares a degree of responsibility.”