DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Aodhán Ó RIordáin)
* To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the commitments that the government has made, in terms of accepting refugees and unaccompanied minors to Ireland, and the dates by which those commitments are to be met; the number of persons, including unaccompanied minors, the government has committed to accepting, under the various resettlement and relocation programmes, in tabular form; the numbers to date that have been accepted under the programmes; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (David Stanton)
The Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established by Government Decision on 10 September 2015 as a direct response to the humanitarian crisis that developed in Southern Europe as a consequence of mass migration from areas of conflict in the Middle East and Africa. Under this 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 the EU relocation mechanism established by two EU Council Decisions in 2015 to assist Italy and Greece, and the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme currently focused on resettling refugees from camps in Lebanon. A full breakdown of Ireland's commitments under the programme is attached in Table A below.
Under the resettlement part of the Programme, 519 persons out of the original quota of 520 persons displaced by the Syrian conflict have arrived in Ireland to date. This is a full year ahead of the EU Commission deadline for this programme. In addition, the Government recently announced that it is extending the resettlement programme to take in a further 520 refugees from Lebanon in 2017. Sufficient refugees to fill 260 places on this quota have already been selected during a selection mission to Lebanon in October 2016 and these refugees are expected to arrive in Spring 2017. A further selection mission to Lebanon will be arranged in coming months to select the balance of the 2017 quota.
Under relocation, Ireland has to date taken in 109 asylum seekers from Greece, mostly families, and a further 130 people are scheduled to arrive later this week. A further 84 people have been assessed and cleared for arrival and arrangements for their travel to the State are currently being made. This week, IRPP officials are interviewing a group of approximately 80 people in Athens who, subject to Garda security assessments, are expected to be cleared for arrival by the end of the year. In all this means that over 400 persons, mostly families with young children, will have either arrived in Ireland or been cleared for arrival by the end of 2016. The intention is to sustain the pace of intakes throughout 2017 at the levels required to allow Ireland to meets its commitments within the timeframe envisaged by the Programme. A summary of arrivals to date is attached in Table B below.
In announcing the Programme, the Government recognised the importance of addressing the position of unaccompanied children. The relocation of unaccompanied minors is a complex and sensitive process, involving various aspects of European and domestic law, and any actions taken in relation to this vulnerable group must always have the principle of the best interests of the child and the prospect of family reunification at their centre. Ireland is committed to relocating unaccompanied minors and this has been clearly demonstrated by the recent Government decision to offer to relocate up to 200 unaccompanied minors, formerly resident in the migrant camp at Calais, to Ireland. As regards the relocation of unaccompanied minors from Greece, the situation is complicated somewhat by the variety of different definitions used across EU States and voluntary organisations of just what legally constitutes an unaccompanied minor. There is no legally binding definition across the EU. So for consistency's sake I will use the definition used by Greek officials which is what the EU Commission uses in its statistics. Under this definition, which essentially says an unaccompanied minor is anyone under 18 who is not accompanied by an adult member of the immediate family, Ireland has thus far taken in 5 unaccompanied minors from Greece. A further 7 will be included in the group of 130 arriving this week.
The Deputy will also be aware that the Tánaiste and her colleague the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs returned yesterday from Greece where they met with officials and volunteer groups and visited migrant camps to see first hand the challenges being faced and to reaffirm Ireland's support for Greece in its efforts to manage this ongoing humanitarian crisis. Officials from Tusla also take part in any mission to Athens where the group being assessed contains unaccompanied minors requiring their care upon arrival.
Table A - Commitments made by the Government under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme
Relocation Italy Greece Unallocated* Total
Council Decision 2015/1523 360 240 0 600
Council Decision 2015/1601 263 849 910 2,022
TOTAL 623 1089 910 2,622
*Awaiting further implementing Council Decision
Government Decision 09/06/15 520
Government Decision 06/07/16 260
Government Decision 29/11/16 260
Total Relocation 2,622
Total Resettlement 1,040
Government Decision 10/11/16 Re: UAM’s previously in Calais 200
Mechanism Undecided 138
GRAND TOTAL 4,000