Government urged to give refugee families chance to reunify

Committee recommends that International Protection Bill proceed to Dáil committee stage

Refugees must make the application within 12 months of receiving their permission to remain in Ireland.  Photograph: iStock

Refugees must make the application within 12 months of receiving their permission to remain in Ireland. Photograph: iStock

 

The Oireachtas Justice and Equality Committee has called on the Government to support legislation which would give refugee families the chance to apply for their loved ones to join them in Ireland.

The committee’s scrutiny report on the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 recommends that a money message be granted and that the bill proceed to Dáil committee stage.

The decision follows a February Oireachtas committee hearing where a number of groups called for changes to the current family reunification scheme which has prevented many refugees from bringing dependent family members to Ireland.

Under the International Protection Act 2015, which came into force more than 18 months ago 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. Refugees must make the application within 12 months of receiving their permission to remain in Ireland.

The Bill proposes to extend the definition of family to grandparents, elderly parents, siblings, children, wards or guardians while giving applicants more time to submit their application. The legislation would return to the provisions on family reunification that existed in Ireland for nearly two decades under the 1996 Refugee Act.

In its report, the Committee dismissed any claims that expanding the definition of family members under the law would “open the floodgates” or oblige the State to reserve resources for “unquantifiable numbers of potential applicants”. It also argued that the statutory 12 month time limit in which a person can apply for reunification was “too inflexible and restrictive”, and that applicants face many difficulties and challenges in making the application during their first year in Ireland.

The Irish Humanitarian Admission Programme (IHAP), which has made two callouts and allows Irish citizens of foreign birth, programme refugees and those with international protection to apply for immediate family members to join them in Ireland, is also “too limited in eligibility” while the temporary nature of the programme creates further uncertainty for families, said the Committee. Any costs associated with the passage of the Bill are minor and largely administrative in nature, it added.

Senator Colette Kelleher, who introduced and sponsored the Bill, said the legislation would return to “a more compassionate system” and give “desperate families torn apart by war and conflict the change to apply to be reunited in safety” within reasonable timescales.

Speaking before the committee in February 2019, Ms Kelleher, warned that separation from family could be a source of extreme anxiety for refugees and interfered with efforts to become self-sufficient and integrate. Any claims that the bill would be “open ended” was a misunderstanding of the legislation, she said, adding that no person would be given an automatic entitlement to bring family to Ireland but that they would have the opportunity to apply to reunite with loved ones.

“Family reunification, which is what this bill is all about, offers refugees the best chance to rebuild their lives on a firm footing with their family by their said,” Ms Kelleher told the Committee.