UNHCR welcomes draft Irish asylum law

News Stories, 30 January 2008

© UNHCR/S.O'Brien
UNHCR staff member Gladys MacPherson goes through the draft Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill.

DUBLIN, Ireland, January 30 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Wednesday welcomed a draft immigration and asylum law that will overhaul all existing Irish legislation on these key issues.

UNHCR Representative in Ireland Manuel Jordão said the new Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, published by the government on Tuesday, offered "a unique opportunity to strengthen Ireland's existing asylum system by introducing a single asylum procedure."

The draft legislation, which must be tabled in the Dáil (parliament), aims to transpose the European Union's asylum directives into Irish law and streamline the current and multi-stage asylum process.

At present, this involves an initial refugee status determination and appeal, followed by a ruling on whether or not the asylum seeker is eligible for subsidiary protection and/ or if other reasons exist for letting the person stay.

Ireland's Department of Justice says this process is far too lengthy and delays a final decision, adding that this delay can also affect the final decision.

Supporters of the new bill say it will offer a single procedure in which future asylum applicants will set out their claim and decision-makers will look at all the grounds for protection, both under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the EU Qualifications Directive. This will give the decision-makers wider scope to make a ruling at the initial and appeals stages of the asylum process.

"The new approach to protection applications will result in a more streamlined and efficient process which will ensure that a protection applicant receives a quick and comprehensive answer to the whole question, 'Can I stay,'" the Department of Justice said in a statement on Tuesday.

UNHCR's Jordão said the bill was "much clearer than previous drafts, better structured and easier to read." He believed it would enhance the quality of asylum decisions, greatly reduce the risk of gaps occurring in the assessment of asylum claims, speed up decision-making and reduce the time asylum seekers live in accommodation centres.

UNHCR has welcomed, in particular, Ireland's aim to grant subsidiary protection holders similar rights to refugees, in particular for family reunification. The refugee agency has also backed ideas for revising the appeals procedure in Ireland, which has been heavily criticized.

A new Protection Review Tribunal is proposed to replace the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, with provisions to increase consistency of decision-making and the possibility of full-time members to make rulings. Under the bill, the independent Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner is to be subsumed into the Irish Nationality and Immigration Service, part of the Department of Justice.

UNHCR is looking closely at how the bill deals with detention, the withdrawal of refugee status, use of safe countries, as well as use and scope of public security concepts. The refugee agency will be urging Ireland to ensure measures to tackle illegal immigration do not affect the possibilities for asylum seekers to access its territory.

By Steven O'Brien in Dublin, Ireland