Around 360 refugees sought asylum in Ireland every month last year, new figures revealed today.
A total of 4,314 applications were made by residents from more than 90 different countries in 2006, just nine less than the previous year.
The Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) said the figure reflected a continuing decrease in annual applications, which peaked to 11,634 in 2002.
Nigeria, Sudan, Romania, Iraq and Iran were the top five applicant countries.
Some 243 applications received from detainees held by the Irish Prison Service (IPS) and the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) were prioritised.
In the organisation's sixth Annual Report, the Refugee Applications Commissioner, Berenice O'Neill, said the diversity of the caseload continued to be a challenge with applicants coming from 91 different countries, with 44 countries having more than 10 applicants each.
"Cases continued to be more complex with some requiring more than one substantive interview," she said.
"Multiple grounds were frequently claimed. The profile of applicants showed that, in the main, there continued to be a small number applying from each country.
"During 2006, more effective and efficient systems and procedures were further developed with the service providers to ensure interpreter attendance at the required times.
"Lack of interpreter availability in some languages can be a difficulty. This affects the timely processing of some cases as it can lead to the adjournment of substantive interviews."
The ORAC is an independent office which considers applications for refugee status and makes recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on whether such status should be granted.
It is also responsible for the investigation and preparation of reports to the minister on applications from those granted refugee status who subsequently seek permission for a family member to enter and live in the state.
Except for cases that could not be processed for medical or other compelling reasons, 79% of applications received during 2006 were completed by the end of the year. All other cases were scheduled for interview or awaiting decision.
The number of cases dealt with under the Dublin II Regulation - an EU-wide system for determining which country is responsible for processing applications - continued to rise, increasing by 23% on the 2005 figure.
A total of 540 determinations were made under the Dublin II Regulation in 2006, a 128% increase since the introduction of EURODAC and the Dublin II Regulation in 2003, with only 63 resolved.
Simultaneously, Ireland received a total of 137 Dublin II Regulation requests from other Member States to process asylum claims in this country.
At the beginning of the year there were also 79 unresolved judicial review applications challenging ORAC processes and procedures.
A further 233 were initiated during the year - an increase of 73% on the 135 taken in 2005, with almost half of the 2006 total submitted by one firm of solicitors.
Of the 249 cases that were awaiting judgements of the High Court at the end of the year, the main challenges centred on claims that:
- Children's applications should be treated separately from those of their parents;
- Children born in Ireland should not be treated as nationals of parents' country of origin for the purpose of their asylum claim;
- Country of Origin Information and credibility issues were not put to applicants during S.11 interview.
"During 2006 we continued to make significant progress in achieving the challenging goals and objectives set out in our strategy statement," added Ms O'Neill.
"Cases which are subject to a Ministerial Prioritisation Directive continued to be finalised within 17 to 20 days of application and all other cases, except approximately 10%, which are held up for medical or other compelling reasons are processed within approximately eight to 10 weeks of initial application.
"However, due to a decrease in the number of case workers, the timeframe for processing these cases was slightly extended during the last quarter."