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Ireland grants refugees and asylum seekers right to vote

News Stories, 30 April 2004

DUBLIN, Ireland, April 30 (UNHCR) Refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland will be eligible to vote for the first time in local elections on June 11 this year, following uncertainty based on the lack of recognition of their identity documents.

Until this week, refugees and asylum seekers had been barred from participating in local elections because the list of documents accepted as identity documents for voting failed to include the Temporary Registration Certificate (TRC) card that is carried by asylum seekers, or the Garda [Police] National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) card carried by refugees.

However, the Irish Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Martin Cullen, announced this week new regulations extending the list of documents that are acceptable for the purpose of voting to include those held by refugees and asylum seekers.

On April 27, the minister's department stated: "When a person goes to vote, he may be asked for identification, and the inclusion of the TRC card and the GNIB card will ensure that asylum seekers and refugees who are registered on the register of electors will have appropriate identification documents available to them."

Under Irish electoral law, all voters must be "ordinarily resident" at an address and aged 18 years and above to be eligible to register as a voter. Subsequently, their citizenship defines the elections at which they are entitled to vote.

Irish citizens are eligible to vote at all polls, EU citizens can vote at European and local elections, while non-nationals (other than EU citizens) can vote at local elections only.

Integrating Ireland, an independent network of voluntary groups working with refugees and asylum seekers, welcomed the minister's announcement. The project's director, Dr. Jean-Pierre Eyanga, urged the Irish government to promote "a positive model of integration" and warned, "The alternative poses the risk that Ireland's new communities would be disenfranchised."

He explained, "Asylum seekers surrender their national passports to claim asylum. It is equivalent to saying, 'My country cannot or will not protect me', but for many that has resulted in a loss of identity. The temporary registration cards issued to asylum seekers actually state on the back, 'This is not an ID'. This causes many difficulties."

"Whilst we welcome the decision on identity cards," Dr. Eyanga noted with irony that "on the same day new communities go to the polls in local elections, they will be standing in the same polling stations where the Irish public are being asked to vote on a change to Ireland's Constitution, which grants children born in Ireland automatic citizenship, regardless of descent."

In addition to European and local elections on June 11, Ireland will hold a Constitutional referendum on the right to citizenship of children born in Ireland to non-national parents.

Previously, non-national parents of children born in Ireland could apply for residence based on the automatic citizenship of their child. Asylum seekers with children born in Ireland were also eligible, until this was overturned by a ruling in the Irish Supreme Court in 2003, which granted the possibility to the Irish authorities to deport the non-national parents of an Irish citizen.

Integrating Ireland is encouraging refugees and asylum seekers to go to the polls on June 11. Dr. Eyanga also urged the Irish government "to encourage new communities to vote with a special campaign" in the time remaining.




UNHCR country pages


UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

Rescue at Sea

Summer, with its fair weather and calmer seas, often brings an increase in the number of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean and seek asylum in Europe. But this year the numbers have grown by a staggering amount. In the month of June, the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation picked up desperate passengers at a rate of more than 750 per day.

In late June, UNHCR photographer Alfredo D'Amato boarded the San Giorgio, an Italian naval ship taking part in the operation, to document the rescue process - including the first sighting of boats from a military helicopter, the passengers' transfer to small rescue boats and then the mother ship, and finally their return to dry land in Puglia, Italy.

In the span of just six hours on 28 June, the crew rescued 1,171 people from four overcrowded boats. Over half were from war-torn Syrian, mostly families and large groups. Others came from Eritrea and Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Bangladesh and beyond. D'Amato's images and the interviews that accompanied them are windows into the lives of people whose situation at home had become so precarious that they were willing to risk it all.

Rescue at Sea

The Faces of Asylum

Everyone has a right to be treated humanely and with dignity. But asylum-seekers can sometimes be detained for years, forced to exist on the edge of society and struggle for their right to protection, while in some cases suffering human rights abuses. Their temporary new homes - a long way from the ones they left behind - can be sports halls, churches, closed centres, makeshift shelters or simply the street. Lives are put on hold while people wait in the hope of receiving refugee status.

Although it is the legitimate right of any government to secure its borders and prevent irregular immigration, it is important that anyone seeking asylum in a country have access to it. According to international law, states are obliged to provide protection to those in need, and must not return a person to a place where their life or freedom is threatened.

This photo set looks at the faces of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries - the real people behind the numbers, crossing land borders and oceans in search of safety, work or just a better life.

The Faces of Asylum

Greece: Ramping up refugee receptionPlay video

Greece: Ramping up refugee reception

UNHCR staff are working with Government authorities, NGOs and volunteers on the beaches of the Greek island of Lesvos to receive cold, wet and fearful asylum seekers making landfall around the clock. They wrap them in thermal blankets and take them to warm, safe emergency accommodation at transit sites, with power and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Italy: Mediterranean RescuePlay video

Italy: Mediterranean Rescue

The Italy Navy rescues hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on the high seas as the numbers of people undertaking the crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa grows.
Italy: Waiting for AsylumPlay video

Italy: Waiting for Asylum

Sicily has a high number of asylum-seekers because of its location in the south of Italy. In 2011, Cara Mineo was set up to provide asylum-seekers with a place to live while their applications were processed. Today, more than 4,000 people stay there and must wait up to a year for a decision on their applications.