UNHCR welcomes Humanitarian Admission Programme for vulnerable family members

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has welcomed the Government’s announcement that citizens and refugees can now apply for family members to join them in Ireland under a new humanitarian admission programme. The programme will allow family members and dependents, including those not covered under the existing provisions of the International Protection Act 2015, to reunite with their family in Ireland. These include Irish citizens, who currently do not have a right to family reunification under the Act.

“Finding and reuniting with family members is one of the most pressing concerns of refugees once they find safety” said Enda O’Neill, Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland. “UNHCR’s own research shows that family reunification can be extremely beneficial, not only to the family concerned, but to wider society and to the State, enhancing integration prospects and the well-being of refugees who finally feel they can move on with their lives knowing their family is safe.”

Up to 530 persons from the top ten major source countries of refugees in UNHCR’s Annual Global Trends Report will be given the opportunity to join immediate family members in Ireland under the programme. Currently, those countries are: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, DR Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Eritrea, and Burundi.

An estimated 1.2 million refugees are in need of resettlement according to UNHCR’s own figures, with Syrian refugees representing 40% of the need. Ireland’s announcement comes only weeks after the Syria Conference in Brussels, where UNHCR invited countries to expand resettlement programmes for Syrian refugees, the vast majority of whom remain in countries neighboring Syria.

“Safe and legal humanitarian corridors allow refugees to bypass human trafficking networks who exploit and abuse those forced to flee” said O’Neill. “Ireland’s Humanitarian Admission Programme, along with the existing resettlement programme and the pilot community sponsorship programme show Ireland’s continued commitment to providing increased opportunities to some of the most vulnerable people and their families to find safety and rebuild their lives.

“It is also a positive response to 2016’s historic New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, and the commitments of all 193 member states of the United Nations to ease pressure on host communities in protracted situations of mass displacement. As countries move towards developing a global compact on refugees, Ireland’s decision shows that there are many ways in which we can manage refugee situations globally.”

UNHCR also repeated its call for the Minister for Justice and Equality to apply his discretion flexibly under the non-EEA family reunification scheme for close and dependent family members of refugees not from the ten countries listed above. 

“UNHCR stands ready to offer practical assistance to the authorities on this and other parts of the programme, particularly where proposed family members are registered with UNHCR outside of their country of nationality,” added O’Neill.

Notes to Editors:

Family reunification

Since the introduction of the International Protection Act 2015, the rights of refugees in Ireland to be joined by close family members have been curtailed in a number of ways. Under the provisions of the 2015 Act, refugees lost their entitlement to be joined by close family members, outside of the nuclear family, even where they previously lived together as part of the same family unit or where a relationship of dependency exists. Previously, refugees could apply for such family members under the Refugee Act 1996.

New statutory time limits were introduced, giving refugees one year to make applications, even where the failure to do so was for reasons outside of their control; for example, if their family members' whereabouts were unknown.


Resettlement is the transfer of refugees from a State in which they have sought protection to a third State that has agreed to admit them as refugees with permanent residence. Ireland has an annual resettlement programme and is a long standing resettlement partner.   In September 2015, the Irish government made a decision to welcome up to 4,000 refugees and asylum-seekers under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. To date, 1,814 have arrived (792 on resettlement since September 2015 and 1,022 from Greece on the EU Relocation Programme).  

273 refugees arrived on resettlement in 2017 out of an expected 520.

Resettlement Needs 

UNHCR estimates that 1.2 million refugees are in need of resettlement. Syrian refugees represent 40 per cent of global needs, followed by refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (12 per cent) and Central African Republic (8 per cent). UNHCR submitted a 20 year high of 162,500 refugees for resettlement in 2016, with 125,800 departing to rebuild their lives in safety. 37 states including Ireland are currently engaged in resettlement programmes.    

Global Compact on refugees

UNHCR was given the task of developing a global compact on refugees by the UN General Assembly in the historic New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, of 19 September 2016, in which 193 governments pledged to forge a fairer global system.

The compact sets out practical measures that can be taken by a wide range of stakeholders to enhance international cooperation in response to large movements of refugees and protracted refugee situations, and to ensure a more equitable and predictable sharing of the burden and responsibility for providing protection to refugees.

Its four key objectives are to:


  1. Ease the pressures on host countries;
  2. Enhance refugee self-reliance;
  3. Expand access to third-country solutions;
  4. Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.