Why is there a focus on people arriving from Albania and Georgia?
Over the weekend, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar instanced these two countries when discussing the arrival of asylum seekers into Ireland.
The Taoiseach said there has been a 60 per cent increase in asylum seekers in recent years, and added: “There are, however, a lot of people from Georgia and Albania coming in with fake documents and that is the big driver of the increase.”
Figures published by the International Protection Office, a branch of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, show 3,762 applications for international protection were received by the State until the end of September.
Almost a quarter, 875, came from Albanian citizens and 15 per cent, or 556 cases, from Georgia.
Why did the Taoiseach mention these two countries?
Mr Varadkar did not outline any new information in his public comments but it was notable he chose to give voice to an issue that has been concerning Government in recent months.
The trend of arrivals from so-called “safe countries,” such as Albania and Georgia has been evident for some time and has been a feature of figures published by the Department of Justice.
While higher numbers of arrivals from countries such as Syria, where people were fleeing war, were previously a feature of the asylum process, that has given way to higher numbers from so-called safe countries.
Those applying for refugee status are placed in the Direct Provision system, which sees the State provide accommodation on a full-board basis, until an assessment of their status is made.
Asylum seekers from countries regarded as ‘safe’ are far less likely to be granted leave to remain in the State than those from at risk countries.
The Irish Refugee Council (IRC) has criticised Varadkar’s comments, saying that picking out “ nationalities is dangerous and to suggest that a country is de facto safe for all is very dangerous”.
How are people from Albania and Georgia entering Ireland?
Albania and Georgia were granted permission to travel to and from the Schengen area without requiring a visa from 2011 and 2017 respectively. The Schengen area allows people travel within the European Union without passport checks.
But don’t we have an opt out of Schengen?
Yes, Ireland and the UK have an opt out of the Schengen area. However, the easing of visa restrictions in the Schengen area has allowed for those in Albania and Georgia to travel to Schengen area countries and then on to Ireland.
There are no direct flights between Albania and Georgia and Ireland but other points of transit – such as Milan and Lanzarote – are understood to have been used. Some arrivals are understood to use falsified documents.
What happens when such immigrants arrive in Ireland?
If someone with falsified documents makes it through immigration control, they are free to enter Ireland.
In some instances where falsified documents are detected, sources said people have then applied for asylum status which would see them enter the international protection system.
It is understood there are cases of people simply disappearing after initial asylum screenings.
Greater checks are now being carried out, for example, when people leave a plane at Dublin Airport.
What happens when someone claims asylum?
Anyone applying for asylum is referred to the Direct Provision system, although current pressures on the system mean emergency accommodation is often used instead of dedicated Direct Provision centres.
At present, 7,655 people are in Direct Provision and another 1,800 asylum seekers are living in emergency accommodation.
This has created pressures on a system already coping with a homelessness crisis, and there have been tensions between the Department of Housing and the Department of Justice over the use of emergency accommodation for those seeking asylum.
The Department of Justice is attempting to increase the number of Direct Provision centres around the country to increase capacity and reduce the use of emergency accommodation, such as hotels and bed and breakfasts.
What is the reason for the arrivals from Albania and Georgia?
Government figures, whilst acknowledging there could be genuine refugee cases from such countries, believe those arriving in Ireland from Albania and Georgia are essentially economic migrants.
However, the Government has faced criticism for this view with the IRC saying that by naming the two countries and referring to people from there as economic migrants Varadkar appears to suggest “that everyone from those countries is not a refugee or doesn’t have claim for refugee status”.
A factor in the recent increases, it is believed, may also be due to Brexit.
Sources said some immigrants arriving to Ireland may eventually want to travel to the UK using the Common Travel Area.
However, it is argued that if the Common Travel Area is to be maintained, Ireland cannot become a back door into the UK.