Varadkar’s comments on illegal immigration ‘dangerous’, says rights group

Sinn Féin leader criticises Taoiseach for singling out migrants from Albania and Georgia

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there were ‘a lot of people from Georgia and Albania coming in with fake documents and that is a big driver of the increase’ in asylum applications. File image: Colin Keegan/ Collins Dublin

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there were ‘a lot of people from Georgia and Albania coming in with fake documents and that is a big driver of the increase’ in asylum applications. File image: Colin Keegan/ Collins Dublin

 

Comments made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about illegal immigration have been described as “very dangerous” by a migrant rights group.

Mr Varadkar was quoted, in a report in The Sunday Independent, as saying migrants from Albania and Georgia with fake documents were behind a rise in the numbers seeking asylum in the country.

Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) said “to pick out particular nationalities is dangerous and to suggest that a country is de facto safe for all is very dangerous”.

He said by naming the two countries, Mr Varadkar’s comments “suggest that everyone from those countries is not a refugee or doesn’t have claim for refugee status”.

Refugee status was determined by an individual’s circumstances, not their nationality, Mr Henderson said, and minorities and those from the LGBT community in Albania and Georgia had faced threats. Furthermore, those under threat in those jurisdictions cannot always rely on police protection, he said.

“I don’t think there’s any intention (by the Taoiseach) to direct malice or harm towards people of those nationalities, but it’s very clumsy at best,” he said.

The EU did away with visa requirements for people entering the Schengen area of the EU from Albania and Georgia two years ago. This, in part, may explain the reported increase in asylum applications across EU countries. However, Albanians and Georgians still require a visa to enter Ireland, the UK or Denmark.*

September’s monthly statistical report on applications for internationl protection shows there has been an increase of 60.2 per cent on the same period in 2018, with 3,762 applications made so far this year. Albanians and Georgians made up 38.1 per cent of the total, up from 23.3 per cent for the same period last year.

Georgian ambassador to Ireland, George Zurabashvilli, told The Irish Times “there are no political circumstances for Georgians to seek asylum in any third countries”.

He said his government is working with Ireland to prevent the “unauthorised travel of people abroad” and that to his knowledge, the majority of applications by Georgian nationals for asylum in Ireland are refused. The London embassy of Albania, which looks after Irish affairs, did not respond to a request for comment.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Mr Varadkar of seeking to “scapegoat Georgians and Albanians” for the Government’s failings in policy areas such as housing, and she said public representatives should be very careful in their choice of language when it came to discussing immigration.

In the newspaper interview, the Taoiseach said migrants from the two countries were a “big driver” behind a 60 per cent increase in the number of applications for asylum in Ireland in the first nine months of the year.

He said Ireland was not being “swamped or flooded” by migrants. “There are, however, a lot of people from Georgia and Albania coming in with fake documents and that is a big driver of the increase.”

On Sunday, a spokesman for Mr Varadkar said “what the Taoiseach said was a statement of fact. Any debate we have on immigration should be based on facts not fears or misinformation”.

His comments come amid ongoing focus on the provision of emergency direct provision places in hotels around the country.

A proposal to house 13 women at a hotel in Achill Island, Co Mayo has stirred up opposition in the local community and in Oughterard, Co Galway, plans to convert a local hotel into an emergency direct provision centre were met with widespread protest, leading to the abandonment of the plan.

*This article was edited on November 4th, 2019