Irish acceptance of asylum claims lowest in EU

 

IRELAND HAS overtaken Greece as the EU state with the lowest acceptance rate of claims for refugee status, a new report shows.

The EU statistics agency Eurostat said yesterday the Government rejected nearly 99 per cent of asylum claims at first instance in the third quarter of 2010. Between July and September, the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner rejected 370 of 375 claims and granted five.

This exceptionally low acceptance rate for asylum claims in the Republic has prompted a large number of legal cases, with 950 asylum applications pending before the High Court.

Last year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) criticised Irish acceptance rates as “low” and said it would engage with the authorities. It declined to comment on the figures published yesterday.

One in four asylum applications was accepted at first instance in the EU during the third quarter last year. Greece, which in 2009 had the lowest acceptance rate of asylum claims in the EU, approved 20 applications out of 710, an acceptance rate of 2.8 per cent.

Several EU states have suspended transfers of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin Convention – an EU rule stating asylum claims should be heard by the state in which they are first made – because of fears they do not get a fair hearing.

Last year, the Government suspended the transfer of about 40 asylum seekers to Greece until the European Court of Justice gives guidance to the High Court on issues arising from their appeals.

Ireland’s acceptance rate of refugees at first instance, at 1.3 per cent, is significantly lower than those of most EU states, including Britain (24 per cent), Sweden (36 per cent) and France (13 per cent).

Latvia and Slovenia, which also report high rejection rates for claims, took two or fewer first-instance decisions in the quarter, the Eurostat report said.

In response to a Dáil question from Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter, the Minister for Justice revealed 950 court cases against decisions by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the Minister are pending in the courts.

The Minister said it was not possible for the Government to specify the average cost of an asylum appeal. Legal aid for asylum seekers costs taxpayers about €7 million annually but this does not include appeals costs incurred by the Chief State Solicitor’s office, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and the Courts Service.

Mr Shatter said the number of legal appeals illustrated the extent to which the Government and successive Fianna Fáil ministers for justice had failed to install a modern and fair asylum system. The Courts Service said yesterday 749 new asylum cases were received in 2009 and 785 in 2010.

President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns last September requested senior judges to cut short their summer holidays to hear a backlog of some 550 asylum appeals. The Irish Refugee Council said asylum applications currently clogging the courts would be unnecessary if a more effective asylum appeals process was in place.

A Department of Justice spokeswoman said every case was considered on its merits in accordance with the law. She said it was not possible to make direct comparisons with other jurisdictions, as the caseload profiles differ.