Written Answers. - Ukrainian Asylum Seekers.

Dermot Ahern

Ceist:

490 Mr. D. Ahern asked the Minister for Justice if she will consider making the necessary legislative changes to allow for ecological asylum, particularly in regard to those people who fear for their health as a result of the Chernobyl incident; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16401/96]

Tom Kitt

Ceist:

513 Mr. T. Kitt asked the Minister for Justice if she will give details of the circumstances surrounding the recent deportation of two Ukrainain women and three children from Shannon Airport; if her attention was drawn to such a decision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16822/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 490 and 513 together.

Two adults and three children in transit from Cuba to the Ukraine approached immigration officers at Shannon Airport on 5 September and sought "ecological asylum" as the Ukraine was ecologically polluted due to the chernobyl disaster.

When interviewed, with the assistance of a Ukrainian interpreter, the adults explained that they had been in Cuba for the previous two years where their children had been receiving medical treatment. It was explained to the individuals that they required visas to enter the State and they were advised to continue their journey to Kiev and to apply to come to Ireland in the normal manner. They were also advised of the fact that many children are brought to Ireland each year under a special "Chernobyl project".
They declined to accept the advice offered them, and then indicated that they were seeking "political asylum" on the grounds that their government could not guarantee proper medical care for their children.
The two families were than put up in local bed and breakfast accommodation, with the assistance of the Red Cross, pending a decision on their cases. The immigration officers dealing with the case consulted with officials of my Department.
While the persons concerned used the expression "political asylum" after it had been made clear that they could not be allowed to remain in the State by reference to the ecological concerns they had expressed, it was evident that the grounds advanced by them for political asylum were not encompassed within the internationally recognised meaning of that expression. Accordingly the immigration officers at Shannon were instructed to set in motion the normal processes applying to persons entering the State illegally.
On Saturday, 7 September, the individuals in question left the State — they were not allowed to remain as they were in breach of Irish law.
When they were formally refused leave to land they were advised of the reasons, as required by law, and of the proper procedures for entering the State. They were again advised of the Chernobyl project. While they were naturally displeased with the decision, they raised no objections to the course of action being taken.
There is no doubt that in many immigration/asylum cases decision-making can present considerable difficulties and there have been many examples of such cases over the years. The problem about treating any application as an exception is that it leaves immigration/asylum law generally open to challenge by parties who believe that their cases also merit exceptional treatment.
The issue which gave rise to the possibility of exceptional treatment, in this case, was the suggestion that a child's health would be put at risk if permission to land were refused. This was a matter for medical assessment and in fact the applicants had access to medical advice. The adults mentioned that they had been in Cuba for medical reasons but there was never any indication that there was any particular medical emergency or that any urgent treatment was required. I understand that the doctor who attended the child during his time in this country was required only to administer one of a regular series of injections; the child had his own supply of the required medication.
It is perfectly understandable that individuals looking for permission to land and remain in the State would advance a variety of arguments in support of their applications — and a variety of arguments are in fact advanced.
Deputies will appreciate, however, that if this country were to accept that the asylum process should automatically be set in motion once an applicant, having landed illegally, raises concern about the possible health risks associated with residing in particular parts of the world, this would represent a fundamental departure by the State from international law and practice in this area.
Having explained that basis for not granting permission to land in this case, I want to emphasise that if these families seek to enter the State legally for medical attention and recuperation their applications will be examined sympathetically as is the case with applications from the Chernobyl area.
Finally I should say that the Government has demonstrated its concern to update the law and improve procedures in relation to refuges. Deputies will be aware that the Refugee Act, 1996, became law on 26 June 1996. The necessary arrangements to implement the provisions of this Act are currently in hand in my Department. I have no proposals at this time to introduce further legislation to amend the definition of "refugee" which is provided for at section 2 of the Act.