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Refugee Resettlement Programme

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 28 September 2016

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Questions (21)

Thomas Pringle


21. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will explain the low number with regard to the refugee resettlement programme and provide details on the additional steps Ireland is taking to ensure it meets its commitment to take in 4,000 refugees by the end of 2017, given that Ireland has to date only taken in just over 300 refugees; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27439/16]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Justice)

This question relates to the commitment we have made to take in 4,000 refugees by the end of 2017. The nub of the problem is to see where are the problems and delays regarding living up to our international commitments. There certainly seems to be a feeling the Government is not too sorry to see the delays and that there has been a very slow uptake.

I acknowledge the Deputy's interest in this area and thank him for his question. The Irish refugee protection programme was established by in September 2015 as a direct result of the humanitarian crisis that developed in southern Europe as a consequence of mass migration from areas of conflict. Under the programme, the Government has pledged to accept a total of 4,000 persons into the State by the end of 2017 through a combination of relocation from Italy and Greece and resettlement from Jordan and Lebanon.

Under the resettlement part of the programme, 520 refugees are to be resettled in Ireland by the end of this year. To date, 486 refugees have been admitted to the State. Sufficient cases have already been selected during a mission to Lebanon earlier this year to ensure the remaining refugees in this quota of 520 will be taken in by the end of 2016 ahead of schedule. In addition, the Government recently announced it is extending the resettlement programme to take in a further 250 refugees from Lebanon in 2017.

Under relocation, Ireland has to date taken in 69 Syrians from Greece, mostly families. A further 40 people have been assessed and cleared for arrival and arrangements for their travel to the State are being made. Last week, officials interviewed a group of 63 people in Athens who, once cleared for travel, are expected to arrive in October. It is estimated that by the end of 2016, Ireland will have accepted at least 360 people under relocation. The intention thereafter is to sustain the pace of intakes throughout 2017 at the levels required to allow Ireland to meet its commitments within the timeframes.

As regards the well-documented delays, the Minister is on record as stating that the pace of arrivals during pervious months has been a lot slower than she or I would have liked. The delays have been experienced by the majority of participating states, not just Ireland, and are due to issues outside of our control. They include issues such as inadequate resources and administration on the ground in Greece, technical issues regarding security assessments in Italy and a reluctance on the part of migrants to apply for asylum in hotspots, which is a pre-requisite for entering the relocation programme.

The Government has been concerned at the slow pace of intake. In June this year, a team of officials travelled to Athens to help Greek authorities to identify ways of addressing administrative obstacles and to devise a more ambitious schedule for relocations from Greek hotspots to Ireland. Irish officials also helped to develop and deliver information sessions for potential relocation applicants aimed at encouraging them to take up places on offer in Ireland rather than remaining in limbo as unregistered migrants. More recently, I spoke with colleagues from Italy and an official travelled to Italy to address the delays there. Following this, we expect these issues will change.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and I look forward to reading the full reply. It seems there are problems on the ground in the hotspots, particularly in Italy where the Italians do not want gardaí on their territory. Potentially, there could be police from 27 member states operating in the territory and this might be the cause of some of the problem. What personnel do we have on the ground in the hotspots? What can be done to speed up the agreements? Surely, if the Italians can do the processing work the gardaí would do, we could live with this and the Italians could stand for it also. I may have further questions later.

The issue with the Italians was technical and related to member states conducting, as the Deputy has said, security assessments of groups being allocated to them under relocation. National security is a competency that remains the sole reserve of each individual member state and Ireland already has arrangements in place to allow Garda detectives to travel to Greece to interview people assigned to Ireland. Unlike Greece, however, as the Deputy has said, Italy, for various reasons, had a difficulty with allowing police officers from member states carry out this function on Italian soil. Following recent diplomatic efforts by me and Irish officials, a compromise has been tabled which is likely to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all member states. Carrying out security assessments on large groups of refugees arriving in the State is common practice and has been taking place under Ireland's resettlement programme for many years.

The Government gave a commitment to the public when establishing the programme that security assessments would be carried out on asylum seekers. The awful events in Aleppo this week remind us of the terrible suffering that has been inflicted on the people of Syria. I call on all sides, as I am sure all Members will, to work towards an end to this horrendous conflict which has resulted in loss of life and homes for many Syrians.

I promised Deputy Wallace that he could make a short contribution. I call Deputy Pringle first.

I have a quick question and I will then be happy to give way to my colleague. I presume the figure of 4,000 relates to both relocation and resettlement. If the difficulties continue in Italy, would it be possible to speed up the resettlement number to compensate for the ones that cannot be taken in through relocation?

Last April, both Deputy Clare Daly and I raised the issue of unaccompanied minors in Calais. We pleaded with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to send officials to Calais and Dunkirk to process some of the people there and to see if it was possible to take some in. This would not have cost the State a penny given Irish families were prepared to take them in. I promised to take one myself. We contacted Tusla and we were promised a meeting to talk about how the process for resettlement of unaccompanied minors would work. There was no meeting, no replies to e-mails and no understanding of how to move forward.

There are 1,000 unaccompanied minors in Calais at the moment. The camp will be flattened before the end of October. The French admit they only have facilities for approximately 260 of these minors. Will the Government please consider taking in unaccompanied minors and sending officials there to process them? An Irishwoman, Karen Moynihan, is on the ground there working with the refugee youth service. She is a brilliant individual who has done a number of reports. The Minister of State could communicate with her. The last time the camp was cleared, 129 kids disappeared. It will be worse this time. Surely we can do something.

I thank the Deputy. I appreciate his comments.

The decision on expanding the resettlement programme has been made. By the end of this year, we will have reached our commitment of 520 refugees. The Minister recently announced that we will take another 260 refugees from Lebanon in 2017. We are, therefore, expanding the programme.

On the Calais issue, I acknowledge the Deputy's interest in this and the work he has done. Persons who are currently in another member state, including those in the camps in Calais, and who are in need of international protection are entitled to make an application for asylum in that country should they wish to do so. It also needs to be borne in mind that a defining characteristic of the people in Calais has been their strong desire to go to the UK as their ultimate destination and that is unlikely to change. France to date has been facilitating the UK's desire to control its borders by preventing crossings at Calais. Moreover, President Hollande, recognising the situation in Calais is, as the Deputy said, both intolerable and sustainable, has signalled in the past few days his intention to disband the camp and have its occupants dispersed to accommodation centres throughout France, a move that should be broadly welcomed by all. In the circumstances, any unilateral initiative from Ireland regarding the situation in France at this juncture would be wholly inappropriate.

I acknowledge we went over time on that question but I appreciate everybody's co-operation.