Calls for Government to improve refugee reunification laws

IHREC criticises restriction of access to extended family and time limit on applications

In a statement released to mark World Refugee Day, the IHREC criticised the Government for narrowing access to family reunification for people who had been granted international protection in Ireland since the introduction of the 2015 International Protection Act three years ago. Photograph: File/The Irish Times

In a statement released to mark World Refugee Day, the IHREC criticised the Government for narrowing access to family reunification for people who had been granted international protection in Ireland since the introduction of the 2015 International Protection Act three years ago. Photograph: File/The Irish Times

 

The Irish Government’s family reunification law must be strengthened and expanded to facilitate safe and legal pathways for families to bring their loved ones to Ireland, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has said.

In a statement released to mark World Refugee Day, the IHREC criticised the Government for narrowing access to family reunification for people who had been granted international protection in Ireland since the introduction of the 2015 International Protection Act three years ago.

The commission called for the definition of family members to recognise the diversity of families, including long-term partnerships or customary marriages, as part of changes to the 2015 Act. The 12-month limit on applications for reunification should be repealed or amended while the rights for programme refugees and those who acquire Irish citizenship to apply for reunification should be clarified, said the IHREC.

It described the decision not to allow refugees to apply for reunification with extended family and the statutory time limit on applications as “retrogressive”. The commission plans to raise the issue of Irish legislation on family reunification with the UN as part of the review of the State’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Up until the end of 2016, under the Refugee Act 1996, refugees in Ireland were entitled to apply for family reunification with grandparents, parents, siblings, children, wards or guardians.

However, under the International Protection Act 2015, which was introduced to streamline the asylum process, reunification is limited to spouses, children under 18 and parents, if the applicant is aged under 18, making it almost impossible for family members outside the nuclear family to reunite with loved ones.

Civil society groups have warned that refugees separated from their families are more likely to experience anxiety and depression in their new home and less likely to be able to learn English, secure work and integrate into society.

Research carried out last year found that refugees who have been separated from loved ones, often in traumatic circumstances, tend to experience “enormous distress, depression and loneliness”.

In 2017 the Civil Engagement group of Senators introduced the International Protection (Family Reunification)(Amendment) Bill, which also calls for the Government to expand the definition of family within the Act, has been in its third stage before the Dáil since December 2018.

The IHREC has also called on the Department of Justice to introduce an independent appeals process for families who are refused family reunification.

The Irish Red Cross warned that the lack of support for refugees trying to bring loved ones to Ireland was having a “negative effect” on people and underlined that family reunification was “a key part of sustainable integration”. The Red Cross, which has supported the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees across Ireland through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, has made a fresh call for pledges of accommodation and says homeowners should consider offering a spare room or vacant property to a refugee.

Communities interested in sponsoring a family to come to Ireland have also been urged to contact the Nasc, Migrant and Refugee Rights group for further information on how to get involved.