Overseas delays blamed for likely delay in accepting refugees

Frances Fitzgerald said last year Ireland would take up to 4,000 people under EU plan

The Government is to extend its deadline to accept up to 4,000 refugees and migrants by the end of 2017 due to delays overseas, the Department of Justice has said.

A spokesman for the department told The Irish Times that while the Government's Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was intended to run until the end of 2017, the deadline is "likely to be extended" due to delays in the relocation of asylum seekers.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald announced in September 2015 that Ireland would accept up to 4,000 people as part of a co-ordinated EU response to the refugee crisis.

Just 10 of the 2,622 asylum seekers that Ireland pledged to accept from Italy and Greece under the EU relocation programme have arrived in Ireland so far.


Arrivals expected

A spokesman for the department said another 31 were expected to arrive in Ireland “in the coming weeks” and that Ireland had submitted a request to Greece for an additional 40 asylum seekers.

However, this claim follows reports in April that 30 refugees were expected to arrive in Ireland by the end of that month.

A further 263 programme refugees have been accepted from camps in Lebanon and Jordan under a previously agreed programme with the United Nations to accept 520 people.

The spokesman said delays in establishing emergency hotspots in Greece and Italy meant very few asylum seekers had been available for relocation to Ireland up until very recently.

He added many migrants and refugees were reluctant to apply for asylum in Italy and Greece because they feared they would end up stuck in those countries.

Chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland Brian Killoran said there is little awareness among refugees and migrants that Ireland is a viable option for seeking asylum. "It's overly simplistic to say these people don't want to come to Ireland," said Mr Killoran.

"There's a lack of information when they're arriving in southern Europe. There's also a massive trust issue. Most don't want to apply for asylum in Greece and Italy because they don't trust they'll go any further."

Mr Killoran said the Government's resettlement programme should not only focus on hotspots in Greece and Italy, but look closer to home where thousands of people have gathered in Calais in northern France.

In nearby Cherbourg, there are 500-600 people hoping to travel to Ireland who need information on the State’s legal system and resettlement programme, he said.

“Northern France and those camps should absolutely be on the Irish Government’s radar. It should be considered a hot spot, the same as Greece and Italy. It’s not going to go away. People aren’t just going to scatter to the wind. They’ll go somewhere else and set up new camps.”

Asked what efforts are being made by the Irish Government to inform refugees and migrants about the possibility of seeking asylum in Ireland, the Department of Justice spokesman said eight department staff members will have been deployed to Greece and Italy by the end of the month to inform people about the relocation programme.

Canadian model

Mr Killoran said the Government should turn to countries such as Canada for guidance on resettling refugees in Ireland. In February, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau successfully met his pledge of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees just three months after coming into office.

“There was a very strong message from the Canadian government that this is something the Canadians can do and there’s a moral imperative to do it,” said Mr Killoran. “You don’t see so much of this in Europe.

“There’s also a huge level of community involvement in the relocation and resettlement programme. The Canadian government opened themselves up to community groups, church groups and the public who said we can house people.”

Last September, following the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi whose body washed up on a Turkish beach, thousands of Irish people began calling for action and made offers of beds and homes to refugees.

Public welcome

Mr Killoran said delays in the resettlement programme mean Irish people’s willingness to open their doors to strangers may have diminished.

“The Irish Government’s reaction at the time was ‘That’s fantastic’, but nothing has happened since then. We are closing off the option of using that goodwill.”

Irish Red Cross secretary general Liam O’Dwyer said there are still “in the region of 800 pledges of accommodation, goods and services” on offer to refugees.

The Irish Red Cross was given the task of verifying all pledges of support and accommodation last year. While some people have pulled out, the vast majority of the 900 pledges made last September still stand, according to the Irish Red Cross.

Mr O’Dwyer said he expects asylum seekers under the protection programme to spend two or three months in designated reception and orientation centres before being moved into homes offered around the country.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast