Thursday, 29 January 2004

Questions (20)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

17 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the Government's plans to meet its commitments under international law to allow asylum seekers access to the asylum system. [2522/04]

View answer

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

The State fully meets its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees and has a comprehensive legislative and infrastructural framework in place for this purpose.

The Refugee Act 1996 provides a comprehensive statutory framework for the processing of asylum applications. Section 8 of the Refugee Act provides, inter alia, an entitlement for an asylum seeker to apply for a declaration of refugee status. Section 9 of the Act provides, inter alia, that an applicant for asylum be allowed to enter and remain in the State until an asylum application has been considered. This legislative framework compares very favourably with legislative provisions internationally and was drafted in full consultation with the UNHCR.

Asylum applications in Ireland are processed in accordance with procedures agreed with the UNHCR and are based on the highest standards of international practice. Our asylum determination system compares with the best in the world in terms of fairness, decision making, determination structures and support services for asylum seekers. Three separate offices, namely, the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the Reception and Integration Agency have been put in place and highly resourced to deal with all aspects of asylum applications from initial application to appeal and to co-ordinate accommodation and other support needs of asylum seekers.

In addition, staff working in the asylum processing agencies are provided with comprehensive training overseen by UNHCR including dealing with vulnerable groups, such as victims of torture and unaccompanied minors, and comprehensive translation and interpretation services are provided to applicants as well as legal assistance at all stages of the asylum process. The provision of services to asylum seekers represents a considerable cost to the Exchequer and, for example, amounted to some €340 million in 2002. A figure for expenditure on asylum services in 2003 is being compiled at present. In 2004, the Department has provided some €120 million for asylum and related immigration services, including processing of asylum applications and accommodation.

I understand that what prompted the Deputy to table this question was the recent discussion at the informal meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council in Dublin on 22 and 23 January 2003 on the draft asylum procedures directive, with particular reference to comments made by Amnesty International. The informal Council discussion was essentially an orientation debate on one important aspect of that directive, namely, the safe third country concept. The Council discussions were helpful in providing guidance on how to bring forward dialogue on this measure. There was an emphasis on the need for flexibility and a general consensus that the safe third country concept should be part of the directive. The Irish Presidency intends to reflect on these discussions and to bring forward new ideas to reflect their outcome as soon as possible.