Year total of asylum seekers is lowest since 1998
The number of asylum applications in the Republic fell to a seven-year low this year.
According to preliminary figures issued by the Department of Justice yesterday, there were 4,323 applications this year, compared to 4,626 in 1998. The number of applications has fallen by 9 per cent on last year, when there were 4,766.
The main countries of origin for asylum seekers this year were Nigeria, Somalia, Romania, Sudan and Iran.
Minister for Justice Michael McDowell said the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner was now able to interview asylum seekers within 20 days of an application. Prioritised asylum applications can be dealt with within 16 working days, he said, while the Refugee Appeals Tribunal can deal with cases within 14 working days.
Mr McDowell attributed this to "the ongoing implementation of a comprehensive series of strategies in the areas of asylum and immigration undertaken during the period to date of this Government".
There were 393 people deported during 2005, while another 208 were sent to other EU member states for their asylum applications to be dealt with there.
The Government recently established the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), a new body which draws together functions previously carried out by the Departments of Justice, Foreign Affairs and Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
"The year ahead will continue to pose many challenges for the State's immigration and asylum systems, but I am satisfied that the operation of INIS, providing a one-stop shop for immigration, asylum, visas and citizenship services and key linkages to the work permits system, will continue to provide a strong foundation for better service provision and the enhancement of enforcement strategies in these areas," said Mr McDowell.
A spokeswoman for the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) said the fall in the number of applications reflected a European trend observed over recent years.
"We're not immune to international trends. UNHCR data will show that figures are falling across Europe, as governments are making it a lot more difficult for people to enter their states," she added.
This trend was partly due to stricter controls at airports, tighter visa requirements and the introduction of carrier liability legislation, which penalises companies for transporting people without proper documentation.
"The fact that 4,000 people were refused leave to land at Irish airports and sent back without their case being considered last year does highlight how difficult it is to enter the State in the first place," the spokeswoman said.
She added that the IRC had previously secured funding for the installation of an independent monitor at Dublin airport who would observe the treatment of foreign nationals arriving in the State, but that the Department of Justice had refused permission for anyone to act in this role.
On Thursday the Minister announced the provision of a grant of €110,000 to the IRC for 2006.
Asylum seekers: applications
Source: Department of Justice