To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of refugees admitted here under the resettlement and relocation programmes; if the target of accepting 4,000 refugees by the end of 2017 will be reached; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
As the Deputy is aware, 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. Of these, 2,622 were by means of the EU relocation mechanism established by two EU Council Decisions in 2015 to assist Italy and Greece. A further 1,040 were to be sourced under the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme currently focussed on resettling refugees from Lebanon, and the balance through a variety of mechanisms. It should be noted that Ireland voluntarily opted into the two EU Council Decisions on Relocation (2015/1523) and (2015/1601), which provided for the relocation of 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.
The Government Decision to accept 4,000 persons into the State did not contain a time limit of September 2017 but the relocation mechanism, in particular, did carry a time limit of approximately two years. As I set out below significant issues arose with that mechanism which made it impossible for Ireland to deliver on the numbers allocated to it, primarily because those numbers do not actually exist on the ground in the relevant counties. Hence, the Government has had to find other mechanisms to deliver on the commitment by Ireland.
Under the programme refugee resettlement strand of the Programme, 356 persons arrived in Ireland during 2016. Taken together with the previous year's intake, Ireland had taken in 519 of its original commitment of 520 by the end of 2016, a year ahead of schedule. Last year, the Government doubled its commitment under resettlement to 1,040 and the total who have arrived from Lebanon under refugee resettlement now stands at 785. The balance are expected to arrive in early 2018. The European Commission recognises Ireland as being one of only seven EU Member States to have fulfilled their resettlement pledges from the July 2015 Agreement.
Ireland committed to accept 2,622 asylum seekers under the relocation strand of the IRPP. This total was composed of 1,089 people from Greece, 623 people from Italy and 910 people that were “unallocated” by the Commission. Ireland plans to meet in full its commitment to Greece. 693 of the allocation of 1,089 are already in the State, with a further 62 persons scheduled for arrival in December 2017. By early 2018, it is expected that Ireland will have relocated its entire cohort from Greece (1,089), subject of course to the Greek authorities submitting the small number of remaining case files to Ireland and the ability of local authorities to find homes in communities around Ireland.
However, Italy, unlike Greece, did not permit security assessments to be undertaken by other States on its territory. Accordingly, Ireland has been unable to undertake security assessments in Italy of the asylum seeker cohort eligible for relocation to Ireland. It has therefore not been possible for Ireland to take asylum seekers from Italy despite the most intensive efforts by Ireland to resolve the impasse, both bilaterally with Italian counterparts at official, diplomatic and Ministerial level, and at EU level.
In terms of the unallocated portion contained in the two EU Council Decisions referred to above, which in the case of Ireland amounts to 910 persons, Ireland could not access this component because the EU did not ultimately decide to operationalise this additional commitment. In fact, the Deputy may wish to note that by the end of the two-year EU Relocation Programme in September 2017, just 37,000 asylum seekers were eligible and registered for relocation in Italy and Greece out of an total of 160,000 comprehended by the two Council Decisions, of which 78% (approximately 29,000) had been relocated to other EU Member States including Ireland. It should be noted that proportionally Ireland has taken one of the highest numbers under the EU Relocation Programme. Once the final transfers from Greece take place early next year, Ireland will have relocated more than 3% of the EU’s total figure. This represents a strong commitment by Ireland to EU solidarity, given that we represent less than 1% of the total population of the EU.
Ireland has worked to give effect to the EU relocation Decisions and will fill any gaps arising from the relocation instruments using other mechanisms such as pledges for resettlement of programme refugees. To address the balance of approximately 1,800 people under the IRPP, which arises largely due to the significantly smaller number of asylum seekers eligible and registered under the EU relocation programme, I have recently announced additional resettlement pledges for 2018 and 2019 amounting to an additional commitment of about 945 refugees, and the establishment of a new Family Reunification Humanitarian Admission Programme (FRHAP). The resettlement pledges are the largest commitments for resettlement that we have made in a calendar year since our national resettlement programme began in 2000. They have been made in in the context of a European Commission/UNHCR resettlement pledging exercise for 2018/2019, which aims to provide 50,000 resettlement places across the European Union over the two-year period.
As the Deputy is also aware, following the adoption of the All-Party Motion last November, on the Calais Unaccompanied Minors, a concerted effort has been made to provide a pathway here for such unaccompanied minors who wished to come to Ireland. The Departments of Children and Youth Affairs and Justice and Equality, established the Calais Special Project within Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Working directly with the French authorities, any unaccompanied minors who have been identified as suitable for relocation here have been accepted and provided with the appropriate supports and no unaccompanied minor who has asked to come to Ireland has been refused. A total of 30 young persons have been relocated under this programme to-date. There are an additional 11 children who have been assessed and are awaiting security clearance before travel arrangement can be made for them. In addition to the children that have been brought to Ireland under the Calais Special Project an additional 6 young people from Syria have been admitted to Ireland under the EU Relocation Programme from Greece.
In all the circumstances, I can state that Ireland is making every possible effort to meet its commitments, the commitment by Ireland to accept 4,000 persons remains and that Ireland will fill any gaps arising from the relocation instruments using other mechanisms such as pledges for resettlement of programme refugees. I am working to ensure that Ireland will meet its commitments by 2019.