Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (727)

Conor Lenihan


849 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures he is taking to curb the phenomenon of illegal migration into Ireland. [1203/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

Measures designed to enforce compliance with our immigration laws are but one aspect of the regulatory arrangements which apply to non-nationals seeking to enter or to remain on our territory. While those measures, which are the focus of the Deputy's question, are by no means the only policy response required to deal with the immigration phenomenon, they are nonetheless an important element.

The Garda National Immigration Bureau's computerised information system is now available at 24 sites throughout the country on a 24-hour basis, including at all major ports and airports. The essence of that system is the provision of up-to-date information immediately to immigration personnel throughout the State to support informed, effective and speedy decision making. For example, it contains data, with photographs, on all persons who have been refused leave to land at any port in the State and information on all persons who are the subject of deportation orders. It also contains data on virtually all legally resident non-EEA nationals, which obviates difficulties which may arise for such persons on arrival at a busy port or airport.

Over 9,000 persons were refused entry to the State and returned to their countries of departure in the years 2002 and 2003. In addition, in those years, over 1,000 persons were deported and a further 1,200 approximately who no longer had permission to reside in the State returned voluntarily with the assistance of the immigration authorities. Thus, through those efforts alone, over 11,000 illegal immigrants or potential illegal immigrants have been detected and removed in the past two years. It is important to recognise the deterrent effect that this rigorous regime has on persons who might wish to exploit our immigration procedures.

Both my Department and the Garda National Immigration Bureau have established international liaison arrangements with immigration authorities in both the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and France, which are major transit points for illegal immigration into the State, with a particular focus on trafficking activity. Those arrangements include the placement of permanent liaison officers in the Irish embassies in both London and Paris. On another related front, we will of course during our Presidency of the European Union continue to promote and participate in a range of initiatives in co-operation with our European partners to address the complex web of issues surrounding illegal immigration.

On the legislative front, the Immigration Act, which was enacted on 14 July 2003, constituted a major addition to our corpus of immigration law. It contains a range of amendments designed to strengthen the effectiveness of our immigration and asylum procedures. The Act makes provision for the introduction of carrier liability, which obliges carriers bringing non-nationals into Ireland to satisfy themselves that the passengers whom they take on board at the point of departure have the correct documentation to allow them to disembark here. That provision, which operates regarding traffic coming from outside the common travel area, is having a major deterrent effect on illegal migration.

Unfortunately, there is clear evidence to show that our asylum determination system is being abused by criminal elements whose activities have clear implications for the security and authority of the State itself and the general economic welfare of citizens. Those activities also have implications for the preservation of the integrity and effectiveness of the asylum system as it operates in Ireland for those who are genuinely in fear of persecution. The Act of 2003 contained significant changes to the Refugee Act 1996 to reduce the extent of that abuse. Those include provisions requiring applicants to play a more active role in the asylum process. Failure to co-operate now results in rejection of applications. It also contains provisions for more accelerated processing of applications, including: prioritisation of certain claims; reduced time limits for appeals; greater use of appeals on papers alone; designating of States as safe countries of origin for the purpose of refugee determinations; and streamlined operation of the Dublin Convention and safe third countries processes. The total number of asylum applications for the year 2003 was 32% down on the number for 2002, the number for the last six months of 2003 being 52% down on the comparable period for the previous year.

It is well recognised that increased efforts to combat illegal immigration are accompanied by greater attempted exploitation of legal migratory routes. That results in increased efforts to support visa applications with false documentation or information, greater use of falsified passports and work permits, etc. There is a very rigorous regime employed to determine visa applications, and personnel from my Department are now employed in the embassies in Moscow and Beijing. Fourteen thousand visa applications were rejected in 2002, while 105,000 were granted. In addition, immigration officers with the assistance of the Garda National Immigration Bureau's computerised information system and other specialised equipment now have the capacity to check the authenticity of passports, visas, work permits and Garda registration cards.

The foregoing is but a brief synopsis of all that has been achieved in recent years in response to the issue outlined by the Deputy. Other initiatives include the conclusion of re-admission agreements with a number of source countries, the enactment of legislation criminalising employers who employ non-EEA nationals without a work permit, the enactment of legislation restricting the payment of rent supplements to asylum seekers and other persons not lawfully in the State, the engagement of the International Organisation for Migration to encourage voluntary return, and of course the deployment of additional resources in both my own Department and the Garda National Immigration Bureau to deal with the problem.