Asylum seekers discouraged by changes to system

REFUGEES are being put off from seeking a safe haven in Ireland following changes in the asylum process that identifies those who have already sought sanctuary in another European country.

Figures released by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) shows just 8.5% of refugees coming to Ireland have already tried to seek asylum in another EU state.

The statistic emerged from an EU fingerprint database that identifies those who have already applied for asylum in another member state.

Under the EU’s Dublin II convention, the first European country entered by a person claiming asylum is responsible for processing their application.

A person may not make a further application in another EU country, if their first bid fails. They may also be returned to the first European country into which they arrived.

An electronic fingerprint system in the ORAC in Dublin, that went live in October 2007, is used to take the fingerprints of all asylum seekers.

The fingerprints are checked with the EURODEC system, a fully automated, computerised central database based in the European Commission.

Around 3,430 asylum applicants have been checked by the fingerprinting system and 239 were found to have already sought asylum in another EU member state.

Of those found to have applied for asylum in one other EU member state, 42 were found to have made applications in two member states and a small number had applied in three or more member states.

Last year, more than 200 people were sent from Ireland back to the first EU member state that they first arrived in.

According to the ORAC, the fingerprints and any copies of an asylum applicant are destroyed in cases where the person acquires Irish citizenship. All other prints are kept for 10 years.

The asylum seekers are warned their fingerprints may be disclosed in confidence to relevant Irish authorities and to asylum authorities in other countries.

Chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council Robin Hanan said he was not surprised by the finding as Ireland was a very difficult country to claim asylum.

“The burden of proof on the asylum seeker and the process that has to be gone through is very rigorous,” he said.

“Ireland is not a country people would come to by choice because the burden of proof here is very high — the acceptance rate is about a quarter of what it is in Sweden,” he said.

“A lot of the people who come here really do not know which country they are in — they just know they are out of their own country and are looking for protection.”

But there are also countries where the situation is much worse, said Mr Hanan who pointed out that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had asked EU member states not to transfer people back to Greece — the hearing process there was so superficial that it was not satisfied that lives were being protected.

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