Refugee law and asylum conventions

Time for a rethink?

Sir, – Michael McDowell’s call for a “big international rethink” on refugee law is misguided (“Asylum conventions are outdated and in urgent need of a rethink”, Opinion & Analysis, June 2nd).

Basing this on a crudely phrased and generalised question in a wide-ranging newspaper poll made to 1,000 people seems a particularly weak basis for wholesale change.

It is also worth pointing out that this is a particularly exceptional period and not a good basis for making reactionary decisions. Nearly all refugees here from Ukraine (83,300 people) have temporary protection which was born from an EU directive passed in 2001 and has little to do with the refugee convention. The two should not be conflated. Temporary protection had never been used before until it was triggered almost overnight last March with complete support across Europe in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. An almost once in a generation set of circumstances are required for it to be passed.

Ireland had a record number of protection applications last year but this year so far, the numbers have declined and then plateaued. Michael McDowell points to the number of cases refused, but the inverse is true: a significant number of applications are successful and Ireland’s recognition rate is just slightly behind the EU rate.


Bringing the UK into the mix is also unhelpful. Small boat crossings have fallen in recent months and are a relatively small part of the immigration numbers that so vex the conservatives. One of the fundamental problems with the UK’s asylum policy is a failure to make decisions and a completely misguided thought, post-Brexit, that European countries would do deals to accept returned asylum seekers.

It is also wrong to infer that the refugee convention stands alone, an anachronistic document that ties the hands of governments. EU member states across Europe have built on (and disassembled) the convention through successive directives and regulations since 1999. If anything, it is that the core principles of the refugee convention have been lost, rather than it is too powerful.

The refugee convention is a fundamentally important document. It is bruised and battered and could be updated perhaps, but it holds firm: providing global guidance and a floor of rights that governments cannot pass below.

We tinker with it at our peril. – Yours, etc,



Irish Refugee Council,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – The recent High Court Case involving an Afghan minor highlighted our obligations to provide accommodation under the Charter of Fundamental Rights under EU Law and the EU (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018.

The International Protection Act 2015 which introduced a new single procedure and permission to remain, was to streamline an approach to a more efficient processing of applications that was governed under the Refugee Act of 1996.

While most of those seeking international protection or asylum are coming from safe countries or transiting through safe countries, the genuine applicant who arrives here is, sadly, having to wait to have their claims processed because of processing those aforementioned.

The pressures on the system cannot be quantified because of a housing shortage, the processing of applications, and constant judicial reviews, and the cost to the Irish taxpayer.

We need a more robust approach to those coming here and a quicker turnaround and deportation element for those who arrive with false, forged or no documentation at all. Added to this there is also the difficulty in acquiring the necessary background checks where claimants are granted subsidiary protections or permission to remain.

A discussion paper within the Department of Justice showed the vast majority of deportations were never carried out. In 2017, of the 930 deportation orders signed only 140 or 15 per cent were executed. In 2019, out of 1,468 orders signed only 299 were actually executed. Of the 528 deportation orders signed in 2022, only 248 people have been removed. So far this year 248 deportation orders were signed, but how many will actually be removed? These figures and the fact there are approximately 20,000 undocumented people living within the State, according to Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, shows a system creaking at the edges. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.