Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Questions (478, 479)

Robert Dowds


478. Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on leave to remain for asylum seekers who have been in the system for a long time. [30685/13]

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Robert Dowds


479. Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the way he is dealing with the backlog of applications for asylum. [30686/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 478 and 479 together.

Applications for refugee status in the State are assessed at first instance by the statutory independent Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) and on appeal by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) in accordance with a prescribed legal framework and exclusively on their merits having regard to their subjective and objective elements.

In 2013 (to end May) the median processing time from date of initial application at ORAC through the appeal stage at RAT, to a final Ministerial decision, was 8.3 months. I should point out that some cases can take significantly longer to complete due to, for example, delays arising from medical issues, or because of judicial review proceedings. All asylum applications and appeals are processed in accordance with the Refugee Act 1996 and high quality and fair decision-making in all cases continues to be a key priority at all stages of the asylum process.

A person who is refused a declaration of refugee status is, in addition to other options, notified of their entitlement under the leave to remain process, to apply for subsidiary protection in the State. This is separate to the asylum or refugee status determination process.

The leave to remain process involves consideration of applications for subsidiary protection and other reasons which a failed asylum seeker may present for remaining in the State. The processing of such cases is complex and extremely resource intensive. The investigation of a subsidiary protection application requires a fresh examination of the entire asylum file, the documentation and country of origin information submitted in support of the application as well as an examination of objective, reputable, up to date country of origin information before a conclusion can be arrived at as to whether the applicant is likely to be exposed to 'serious harm' if returned to his/her country of origin. Where such an application is refused consideration must then be given to the case in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the 1999 Act, at which point the Minister must make a decision as to whether or not to make a Deportation Order in respect of that person.

All of this must be done in strict compliance with the Constitution, together with relevant international treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights. It will be seen that these are not quick or easy decisions to make and, given the life changing consequences for the persons involved, these are decisions which must be taken with the most scrupulous care and attention.

While the current statutory framework for the processing of protection applications is fair, giving applicants, as it does, every opportunity to present their case, it is nonetheless inefficient and needs reform. The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, which I intend to re-publish, should substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements and provide applicants with a final decision on their application in a more 'straight forward' and timely fashion. In this regard, the Bill makes provision for the introduction of a single application procedure for the investigation of all grounds for protection and any other grounds presented by applicants seeking to remain in the State.

Pending the enactment and commencement of the new legislation and with a view to improving processing in the area of international protection, I am proposing to introduce new arrangements for the processing of subsidiary protection applications in light of recent judgments in the Superior Courts. My Department, in consultation with the Attorney General's Office, is developing a new legislative and administrative framework for the processing of current and future subsidiary protection applications. This work is being given high priority and applicants will be advised of the new arrangements as soon as possible.

In the meantime cases will continue to be dealt with on their individual merits and in this context the Deputy may be aware that at EU Level, the Member States, in agreeing the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum at the European Council in October 2008 made specific commitments "to use only case-by-case regularisation, rather than generalised regularisation, under national law, for humanitarian or economic reasons".