Comments made by the Taoiseach about illegal immigration have been described as “very dangerous” by a migrant rights group.
Nick Henderson, the chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) said “to pick out particular nationalities is dangerous and to suggest that a country is de facto safe for all is very dangerous”.
Mr Henderson said that by naming the two countries, Mr Varadkar’s comments “suggest that everyone from those countries is not a refugee or doesn’t have claim for refugee status”.
He said refugee status was determined by an individual’s circumstances, not their nationality, and that minorities and those from the LGBT community in Albania and Georgia had faced threats. Furthermore, those under threat in those jurisdictions cannot always rely on police protection, he said.
“I don’t think there’s any intention (by the Taoiseach) to direct malice or harm towards people of those nationalities, but it’s very clumsy at best,” he said.
The EU did away with visa requirements for people entering the EU from Albania and Georgia two years ago. As a result there has been a reported increase in asylum applications not only in Ireland but in other EU countries.
September’s monthly statistical report on applications for international protection shows there has been an increase of 60.2 per cent on the same period in 2018, with 3,762 applications made so far this year. Albanians and Georgians made up 38.1 per cent of the total, up from 23.3 per cent for the same period last year.
Georgian ambassador to Ireland, George Zurabashvilli, told The Irish Times “there are no political circumstances for Georgians to seek asylum in any third countries”.
He said his government is working with Ireland to prevent the “unauthorised travel of people abroad” and that to his knowledge, the majority of applications by Georgian nationals for asylum in Ireland are refused. The London embassy of Albania, which looks after Irish affairs, did not respond to a request for comment.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Mr Varadkar of seeking to “scapegoat Georgians and Albanians” for the Government’s failings in policy areas such as housing, and she said public representatives should be very careful in their choice of language when it came to discussing immigration.
In the newspaper interview, The Taoiseach said migrants from the two countries were a “big driver” behind a 60 per cent increase in the number of applications for asylum in Ireland in the first nine months of the year.
He said Ireland was not being “swamped or flooded” by migrants. “There are, however, a lot of people from Georgia and Albania coming in with fake documents and that is a big driver of the increase.”
The Taoiseach said new controls on immigration, including tightened procedures at airports and customs were resulting in more checks as people disembarked aircraft rather than in airports themselves.
His comments come amid ongoing focus on the provision of emergency direct provision places in hotels around the country, as the dedicated centres struggle to deal with increased numbers.
A proposal to house 13 women at a hotel in Achill Island, Co. Mayo has stirred up opposition in the local community, which says it is concerned about the proposal. A “vigil” and ongoing protest has been held at the site.
In Oughterard, Co Galway, plans to convert a local hotel into an emergency direct provision centre were met with widespread protest, leading to the abandonment of the plan.
Speaking in Cork where she launched the campaign of local Sinn Féin Cllr Thomas Gould in the Cork North Central by-election, Ms McDonald said: “I think the Taoiseach would be doing a far better day’s work if he was advancing an issue around decent accommodation for everyone rather than trying scapegoat Georgians or Albanians or anyone else.
“I think all of us in public life need to be careful to ensure that when we deal with any issue, but in particular issues with migration and new people coming to our country that we do so thoughtfully and carefully.”
The Sinn Féin leader added she believed the people of Ballinamore, Co Leitrim and other places opposing direct provision centres were not racist.
“I still believe that Irish people are decent, good, genuine people but I also know there are a lot of people under a huge amount of pressure and I also know we have to treat everybody decently and that when people come to our shores, we have to treat them respectfully.
“We have a housing crisis and of course in times of crisis, when new people come to our shore, you can be certain that it’s going to cause concern and anxiety and you can be certain that that will be seized upon by some elements.”
“Such preparations should go some way to allay fears and misunderstandings while, at the same time, enabling this important human-centred initiative to work sustainably for the whole community.”
Dr Neary said it was well known that Achill people “are a welcoming people, and in the past, Achill has accepted people from communities around the world.
“As Christians we are morally obliged to welcome the stranger and, in the context of our improved circumstances, we have a responsibility to share with those who are less fortunate than ourselves. We should also be particularly alert to those who are experiencing serious upheaval and a crisis of hope in their lives,” he said.