UNHCR welcomes the introduction of the Irish government's new regularisation scheme

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has welcomed the announcement that persons in the asylum system have been included in the new regularisation scheme for undocumented migrants.

Although there has been some evidence of increased asylum case processing by the International Protection Office (IPO) in recent months, the substantial backlogs on hand mean that a one off, simplified approach as recommended by the 2020 Catherine Day report, may have a significant impact on the number of existing cases and prevent the re-emergence of new backlogs. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted efforts to improve processing times for asylum applications, which remain at unacceptable levels”, said Enda O’Neill, Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland. “Including people waiting for decisions for more than two years has the potential to significantly reduce backlogs, which should support the government’s plans to end the direct provision system.”

Importantly the new scheme acknowledges the primacy of the 1951 Refugee Convention and will facilitate access without prejudice to the resolution of any outstanding application for international protection. Accordingly continued investment in processing capacity will continue to be required. Despite a goal to reduce decision times to nine months and eventually six months, the current average case processing time is 23 months, with prioritised applications, such as those from Afghanistan, taking 14 months.

UNHCR emphasised that fair and efficient procedures remain critical to the government’s implementation of their plans to end Direct Provision and establish a new international protection accommodation service. Such a system would benefit asylum-seekers by ensuring swift access to safety and reducing uncertainty.

“It’s critical that the government seizes this opportunity to continue the reform of the system and implement the recommendations of the Catherine Day Report in full. Progress remains slow and no commitment has yet been made on a number of key recommendations such as undertaking specialist recruitment of suitably qualified decision makers at the International Protection Office to reduce their reliance on external contractors.”

Noting that today’s announcement is likely to add to the significant number of people already living in Direct Provision with status, UNHCR stressed the importance of ensuring they have access to sufficient suitable accommodation in the community. Over the coming months and years this will be crucial both to facilitate the ongoing reform of the reception system and ensure places are available for new applicants in the system.