Up to 530 refugee family members to be welcomed under new scheme
Refugee groups call for definition of family to include elderly parents and older children
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan announced up to 530 family members of refugees from “UNHCR-recognised conflict zones” would be accepted into Ireland. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Up to 530 family members of refugees already living in Ireland are to be welcomed into the State under a new family reunification programme announced by the Minister for Justice on Tuesday.
Speaking following a Cabinet briefing on the new scheme, Charlie Flanagan said the family members of refugees from “UNHCR-recognised conflict zones” would be accepted into Ireland under the new Family Reunification Humanitarian Admission Programme .
Asylum seekers who are granted refugee status, including those who have arrived in Ireland under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP), will be able to apply for “a limited number” of their immediate family members to join them under the new system.
The department says “sponsors” will be asked to prioritise a small number of family members for admission to Ireland, adding that due to the strained national housing supply, priority may be given to people able to house their family.
Mr Flanagan also announced that an additional 1,200 refugees would be resettled in Ireland over the next two years.
Minister of State David Staunton said the new reunification programme and increase in resettlement numbers would allow the State to “continue our tradition of supporting the most vulnerable refugees”.
The programme will operate under the Minister for Justice’s “discretionary powers” and will exist in addition to the reunification provisions of the International Protection Act 2015.
Refugee support groups have previously called for the Government to undo changes made to the definition of family for refugees under the International Protection Act 2015. Under the act, refugees living in Ireland may only apply for a spouse or children under 18 to join them.
Oxfam Ireland welcomed the scheme, but called on the Government to urgently expand the definition of which family members would be eligible for reunification.
“This has had a devastating impact on the lives of refugees settled in Ireland,” said a statement from Oxfam Ireland.
“It has separated children aged 18 and over from their parents, divided siblings and destroyed the bonds between grandparents and grandchildren.”
Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, expressed disappointment at the decision to exclude non-refugee families from the programme.
“People living in Ireland who are not refugees but have family members currently in conflict zones are incredibly limited in their options to bring their families to safety,” said Fiona Finn, chief executive of Nasc.
“In our experience, it is not only refugee families who are impacted by war and conflict.”
However, the group also commended the Government’s commitment to support more people fleeing conflict.
“Taken in conjunction with the Government’s recent commitment to introduce community sponsorship, it is clear that Ireland is taking a lead role in developing positive and innovative responses to the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.”
A Family Reunification Bill calling for a change in the definition of family has passed Committee stage in the Seanad, but has faced Government opposition.
The Government committed in 2015 to accept 4,000 asylum seekers under relocation and resettlement programmes. The department says it expects to have welcomed 1,089 people from Greece under the IRPP relocation programme by early 2018 and another 1,040 people from camps in Lebanon and Jordan as part of resettlement.
Some 119 people rejoined their families in Ireland under the Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme, which was introduced in 2014 and targeted specifically at Syrians. The window for applications from family members already resident in the State closed after six weeks.