The Government has sanctioned the resumption of passport checks at the steps of aircraft in an attempt to address the significant numbers of asylum seekers who have lost or destroyed their travel documents while flying into the State.
A confidential document prepared for a Cabinet subcommittee last week shows that officers from the Garda National Immigration Bureau are carrying out “doorstep operations” on a twice-weekly basis by checking documentation as passengers disembark from flights at Dublin Airport.
The document confirms the resumption of a policy initiated by former minister for justice Charles Flanagan to prevent passengers without any travel documents from disembarking at Dublin Airport. The policy was discontinued after the change of Government in 2020 but has been reactivated by Minister for Justice Simon Harris.
The move was prompted by figures showing that 40 per cent, or more than 5,000 people, who applied for international protection last year either lost or destroyed their travel documents before arriving at Irish immigration control.
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It is one of a number of measures which have been introduced since the autumn to address a substantial increase in the numbers seeking international protection. There was a record 13,651 applications made last year, a 186 per cent increase on 2019, the last comparable year before Covid-19 restrictions were introduced.
The document, seen by The Irish Times, also details how the Department of Justice has responded to a big increase in applications from countries such as Georgia and Albania, which are deemed to be ‘safe countries’ of origin.
The data on people arriving without documents and the relatively high number of applications form ‘safe countries’ have become tropes used by anti-immigrant groups when criticising asylum policies.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Ministers have come under pressure from backbench colleagues to introduce tougher measures to address the issues of destroyed travel documents and arrivals from ‘safe countries’. TDs and Senators have also complained about what they contend is the inordinately long time it takes to make a final determination on an international protection application.
In a reply to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil TD Pádraig O’Sullivan last week, Mr Harris said that almost 40 per cent of cases decided last year had taken more than two years to process, while almost 10 per cent took more than three.
He said one case had taken 14 years between the time the application was made in 2008 and a first instance determination being issued last year. The applicant now has a right to appeal. Mr Harris said such exceptional cases could have been subject to either ongoing judicial review, children with separate applications, non-cooperation or uncontactable applicants.
The Government in July announced a “fast-track” system to process applications made by people who had come from ‘safe countries’, with the intention of reducing the average decision time from about two years to three months.
The system took four months to set up and began operations on November 8th, according to the document. By late January some 352 interviews had been conducted with international protection applicants from Georgia and Albania.
The document also disclosed that the department has contacted 19 separate airlines to discuss their obligations in relation to ensuring all passengers have passports when they board the aircraft.