Between 2005 and 2012, 2,259 people were deported from Ireland, including 973 Nigerians who were predominantly failed asylum seekers.
Last year just over 8 per cent of Ireland’s decisions on all asylum and subsidiary-protection applications were positive, compared with 28 per cent in the UK. Nine hundred and fifty-six asylum applications were made in 2012, a 25 per cent reduction on 2011.
Nigeria has consistently been the main source country of asylum applicants to Ireland, who are subject to a “prioritised” process.
Africa’s most populous country is not at war, although spates of conflict are common in the volatile north while human trafficking, political violence and, in some areas, female genital mutilation are problems. Millions are affected by poverty and unemployment.
Refugee status relates to a “well-founded fear of persecution”; its seekers apply to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, with appeals considered by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.
If applications are rejected, people can apply for leave to remain and subsidiary protection at the Department of Justice. Subsidiary protection relates to a real risk of serious harm; leave to remain mostly concerns humanitarian considerations at the minister’s discretion.
Matthew Emeka Ezeani, a Nigerian-born solicitor, acknowledges that some applicants from Nigeria cause the authorities a headache but says it is important not to prejudge.
“The chances of having your fundamental human rights violated are much higher in Nigeria than any EU country,” he says.
Applicants in Ireland spend a long time in the process. Two-thirds of the 4,600 asylum seekers in privately run accommodation centres have been in the system for more than three years.
The Irish Refugeee Council says the processing of applications and appeals should take no more than six months.
This year about €57.5 million of State money will be spent accommodating asylum seekers.
The department says many people faced with the prospect of deportation “tend to delay the process by engaging in protracted legal proceedings”.
But NGOs point to delays building up at an earlier stage, particularly in the absence of a single procedure for concurrently considering asylum and subsidiary-protection claims. Ireland is the only EU country without a single procedure.
In 2012, after an application for guidance from Ireland’s High Court, an advocate general at the Court of Justice of the European Union wrote an opinion that referred to the “manifestly unreasonable” time of more than two years and three months that Ireland took to assess a Rwandan national’s claims for international protection.
“Mr M’s” application for refugee status in May 2008 took six and a half months to assess; his claim for subsidiary protection spent 21 months with the department.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said that a single procedure for assessment of asylum, subsidiary protection and leave to remain will be included in long-awaited immigration reform, but the Irish Refugee Council's chief executive, Sue Conlan, says this will be no panacea for the thousands in the current system.
The department has stopped processing subsidiary-protection applications, arising from a High Court judgment in the case of Mr M.
The department is devising a new method of assessment that will include an interview; a notice on its website asks applicants to “bear with us”.
The Irish Refugee Council, meanwhile, would like the deportation process to become more humane.
“I’ve known people to be taken out in their bedclothes to the airport, including children,” says Conlan.
According to the department, a deportation order requires a person to leave the State, “and it is only where they fail to do so” that they are forcibly removed.
It operates two voluntary return programmes with the International Organisation for Migration for people not yet subject to deportation orders.
The Garda National Immigration Bureau says that “on occasions” people have reacted violently to efforts to remove them from the State, “which has resulted in a number of personnel attached to the GNIB suffering serious personal injury”.