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Justice and Equality Committee launches report on Immigration, Asylum and the Refugee Crisis

29 June, 2017 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality today launched a report on Immigration, Asylum and the Refugee Crisis.

Speaking at the launch Chairperson of the Committee, Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said those who champion the rights of Irish undocumented in America should extend the same accommodation to the undocumented in our midst here in Ireland.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said;

“Owing to the urgent and largescale refugee crisis that presents, the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality identified the issue as a priority in its 2016-17 work programmes.

“In the course of the evidence presented, the Committee heard of the extent to which asylum seekers face difficulties in Ireland including in terms of family reunification, direct provision, and unaccompanied minors.

“There are also the particular issues that present for undocumented immigrants in Ireland and this report recommends bringing these individuals out of the shadows, allowing them to regularise their situation and to contribute to Irish society in a meaningful way, which we are confident is their shared desire.

“It is my view that if we as a people genuinely want to assist our Irish undocumented in the United States and elsewhere, then the thing to do is the right thing to do and that is to extend the same accommodation, the same welcome and opportunity to the undocumented in our midst that we would want for our own displaced kith and kin on other shores.

“The report also recommends that the necessary resources and processes be put in place to ensure that people spend no longer than is absolutely necessary in direct provision – it should only ever be a short-term measure; and the Committee believes that the denial of the right to seek paid employment is a serious infringement of the individual applicant’s human rights. As such, I welcome the recent Supreme Court judgment on this issue.”

ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s speech follows:

Maidin mhaith agus fáilte.
I would like to thank you all for your attendance here today at the launch of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice & Equality report on Immigration, Asylum and the Refugee Crisis.
As I state in my preface to the report, Europe has in recent times been confronted with its most serious refugee crisis since World War 2. The ongoing tragic conflict in Syria, in particular, has put enormous pressure on the asylum systems of the frontline Member States, which in turn has repercussions for Ireland. Only this morning our national broadcaster is again reporting the gravity of the situation and that the support services in Italy are overwhelmed by the numbers presenting.

Owing to the urgent and largescale refugee crisis that presents, the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality identified the issue as a priority in its 2016-17 work programmes. Between October and December 2016, the Committee held a number of engagements on the matter, including meetings with representatives from the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland and from NASC – the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, to gain an insight into what supports are needed for immigrants and asylum seekers in Ireland. We also met with Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, Tánaiste and former Minister for Justice and Equality, and with Deputy David Stanton, Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality.

In the course of the evidence presented, the Committee heard of the extent to which asylum seekers face difficulties in Ireland including in terms of family reunification, direct provision, and unaccompanied minors. There are also the particular issues that present for undocumented immigrants in Ireland and this report recommends bringing these individuals out of the shadows, allowing them to regularise their situation and to contribute to Irish society in a meaningful way, which we are confident is their shared desire.

It is my view that if we as a people genuinely want to assist our Irish undocumented in the United States and elsewhere, then the thing to do is the right thing to do and that is to extend the same accommodation, the same welcome and opportunity to the undocumented in our midst that we would want for our own displaced kith and kin on other shores.


The report also recommends that the necessary resources and processes be put in place to ensure that people spend no longer than is absolutely necessary in direct provision – it should only ever be a short-term measure; and the Committee believes that the denial of the right to seek paid employment is a serious infringement of the individual applicant’s human rights. As such, I welcome the recent Supreme Court judgment on this issue.

The Committee welcomes the fact that Ireland voluntarily opted to participate in the EU’s emergency response, offering over 4,000 places to those in need of international protection under resettlement and relocation programmes. It is a matter of concern that as of the 15th of last month only 1,238 of those 4,000 people had arrived here under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme which includes both Resettlement Programme Refugees and Relocated Asylum Seekers. Of that number only 543 persons are now living in communities across this state. It was expected that in the region of another 100 people would be housed within communities by the end of this month, now upon us. Given the scale of the refugee crisis facing Europe, this report recommends that Ireland significantly increases its intake of asylum seekers and we must also step up our game by one or even two gears. This will require greater funding and resources for TUSLA and other relevant agencies.

The report makes five key recommendations in total, and they are;

The undocumented
1. The Committee calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality to introduce a time-bound scheme, with transparent criteria, to regularise the position of undocumented migrants in Ireland. Such a scheme would give undocumented migrants a window of opportunity to come forward, pay a fee and regularise their situation. Given the urgency of addressing this situation, the scheme should be introduced, initially at least, on an administrative basis rather than through legislation. Applications should be administered on a case-by-case basis.

There are many potential benefits to such a scheme, allowing individuals, many of whom are already in employment and have a long-term connection to the State, to regularise their situation, pay taxes, and make a positive contribution to Irish society generally at a time when the country is returning to steady growth in employment opportunities and net immigration.

Family reunification
2. The Committee wishes to see a more humanitarian approach adopted towards the plight of Syrian and other refugees who are naturalised citizens of Ireland but who have immediate or extended family members who are displaced or living in great danger in conflict zones. It calls on the Government to introduce a humanitarian admission programme, with transparent and clearly defined criteria, to deal with visa applications in a more sensitive way and offer a safe and legal route for people to flee conflict zones and be reunited with family members in Ireland. Such a programme could work in tandem with efforts to fulfil existing Government commitments under resettlement and relocation schemes.

Relocation Programme
3. Whilst the Committee welcomes the Government’s commitment to relocate 4,000 people here as part of the EU’s emergency response, it does not believe this is adequate in light of the scale of the current humanitarian crisis. Without putting an exact figure on it, the Committee believes there is scope to increase this figure significantly; that Ireland should be proactive in making itself known as a potential location to refugees in Greece and elsewhere; and that Tusla and other relevant agencies should be given the funding and resources necessary to accommodate people quickly and fulfil Ireland’s commitments under the relocation programme.

Unaccompanied Minors
4. Notwithstanding the all-party motion passed in the Dáil in November 2016, committing Ireland to taking 200 children from the former Calais migrant camp, the Committee is strongly of the view that much more needs to be done for the specific cohort of unaccompanied minors within the broader context of the refugee protection programme. It was alarmed to hear evidence that, as of October 2016, one unaccompanied minor had been transferred from Greece. It is not just the responsibility of the Department of Justice and Equality but of a compendium of Departments, Cabinet and Government to ensure Tusla is properly resourced to carry out its functions in this regard. It is imperative that this is done across the board, and in the current crisis of so many thousands displaced but specifically unaccompanied children, it must be properly provisioned and resourced to accommodate the commitment we have made.

Direct Provision
5. The Committee is of the view that Ireland’s system of direct provision should only ever be a short-term measure, and that it is unacceptable for individuals to be living within the system on a long term basis. Evidence was heard that almost 37% of people were in direct provision for more than two years. Whilst recognising that the introduction of a new single-application procedure should help, this must be accompanied by the investment of greater resources to ensure that asylum applications are processed more quickly and efficiently.

The Committee is also of the view that the denial of the right to seek paid employment is a serious infringement of the individual applicant’s human rights.

I encourage all here to read the report in full.

In conclusion, I wish to thank everyone who contributed to this report, including the Members of the Committee, our witnesses from NASC and the Migrant Rights Centre, and the staff of the Committee Secretariat.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh.

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