Other Questions. - Illegal Immigrants.

Austin Deasy

Question:

7 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the complaints, if any, made by him to his Romanian counterpart regarding the exodus of illegal immigrants from that country, many of whom are finding their way here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25639/99]

Our ongoing contacts with the Romanian authorities, which cover a wide range of issues, include discussion of matters arising in the immigration area. In the course of these contacts the Romanian authorities have indicated that they share our concern at the problem of illegal immigration and are anxious to contribute to its resolution, consistent, of course, with our respective international obligations. While there does not, therefore, appear to be any basis for representations of the kind indicated by the Deputy, we will continue to keep all aspects of this matter under review.

The factors which contribute to the current increase in immigration, which is not confined to any single country or region of origin and is shared by almost all our European Union partners, are complex and require an appropriately comprehensive response. This is the basis on which the Government is currently undertaking a full-scale review of all aspects of asylum and immigration policy. This is designed to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place with respect to asylum seekers, refugees and economic immigrants. This is essential to ensure that Ireland continues to discharge fully its international obligations, while at the same time realising the many advantages, economic and social, of Ireland's development as a diverse and multi-cultural society.

Does the Minister of State agree that many of those fleeing Romania are termed gypsies and are under persecution, but that this refers only to a small number of Romanians and that many people fleeing Romania are not under the kind of persecution experienced by that minority? Does she also agree that Romania is a potentially wealthy country and that it has the capacity, in terms of mineral wealth, to develop? Given this, Does she agree that as part of an overall immigration policy, which is clearly needed, investment by Ireland and other EU states in these countries to help them to develop and use their potential would contribute to a partial resolution of these difficulties? Does she also agree that this is another reason why a major step forward is required in the area of overseas development aid?

Romania is a democratic country and is scheduled to join the EU. I agree it would appear that many of those fleeing the country and seeking asylum here will be found to be economic migrants rather than asylum seekers. The most recent figures on asylum seekers indicate that Romania currently comprises the single largest group by country of origin. The official Romanian position is that there are no grounds for a person to flee the country to seek asylum. However, in line with our international obligations we must make such a determination, in due course of law as provided for by the Oireachtas, if a person applies for asylum.

Ireland may make readmission agreements with other countries of origin, such as Romania, to provide for the civilised return of their citizens if, under the convention, they are found not to be refugees but economic migrants. In this regard preliminary discussions with the Romanian authorities are ongoing.

I take this opportunity to praise the stance taken by the Minster of State on the issue of migration, refugees and asylum seekers. It compares well with the stance taken by some of the backbenchers of the party with which she is in Government. Does she agree that, as a phenomenon, migration is as old as the human race and that this island would be empty, populated only by bears and wolves, but for the fact that many centuries ago tribes chose to traverse the European Continent and arrive here? Does she also agree that if we go back far enough we are all migrants? Recognising that reality and also recognising that no matter how well developed other economies may be, does she agree that people will continue to want to migrate? On that basis, would she agree that it is incumbent on the Government to produce at least a discussion document on a immigration policy for the State? I proposed this some time ago in this House. There has not been any response of which I am aware other than a piecemeal approach by the Department on regulation.

The Deputy's minute is up.

Would the Minister agree and undertake in this House to initiate publication of a discussion document – a Green Paper, White Paper, call it what she will – on immigration policy for the State, separate and entirely free from the notion of asylum and refugees?

The Deputy will be aware that on Monday, 29 November, the Taoiseach convened a meeting of Ministers and Secretaries General of various Departments to initiate a comprehensive review of the area of immigration to take a multi-dimensional approach to the issue of economic migrants, illegal immigration and asylum seekers because in the past it had been dealt with in a single-faceted way. It is high time that Ireland, as a modern civilised country with a fast-growing economy, put in place a comprehensive set of policy initiatives and procedures to deal with this phenomenon.

It is not a new phenomenon but it is fairly new for this country. The mass movement of peoples fleeing economic deprivation, famine and conflicts, particularly in the Third World, is now a feature of all European states. Last year 450,000 people applied for asylum in 29 industrialised countries. Ireland received approximately 4,000 of those people seeking asylum.

We must proceed to the next question.

I agree with the Deputy that there needs to be a comprehensive approach taken to this issue rather than a narrow, security approach.