On Friday 21st January 2011, the Irish Times reported that, according to a new report from Eurostat (the EU statistics agency), the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner rejected 99% of asylum claims decided between July and September 2010, giving Ireland the distinction of the lowest acceptance rate in the EU. In a statement to the newspaper, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said that it was not possible to make direct comparisons between Ireland and other jurisdictions as the caseload profiles differ.
For too long, the Irish authorities have explained the high refusal rate by effectively saying that Ireland simply doesn’t get the right type of refugees. In other words, it maintains that the majority of those who come to Ireland are not in need of international protection.
It approaches applications on the assumption that most applicants are lying and therefore dismisses their claims on the grounds that they are lacking in credibility. In reality, it is exceptionally difficult to succeed in a claim for protection in Ireland when the decision makers start with that assumption as the focus will therefore invariably be on minor matters which cannot be explained to their satisfaction. This is regardless of the prima facie evidence for suggesting that the account may be true.
This approach is not only characteristic of the Refugee Applications Commissioner but also of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, undermining the efficacy of its decisions and its independence.
In a decision of the High Court (K v. Refugee Appeals Tribunal & anor. (2010) (IEHC 367) reported on 24th January 2011, a High Court judge, Mrs. Justice Clark, ordered that the asylum appeal of a Congolese man, who had presented strong evidence that he was a victim of torture, be reconsidered by a Tribunal member who had not previously been involved with his case. This was after the case had already been rejected once by the Refugee Applications Commissioner and on two separate occasions by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. The Tribunal’s decision flew in the face not only of the medical reports but also objective evidence which confirmed the man’s account.
In a conference co-hosted by the Irish Refugee Council held at the Law Society on 12th November 2010, Mr. Justice Cooke was severely critical of the poor quality of the decisions of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, many of which he suggested were ‘cut and paste’, rather than a serious attempt to properly determine the appeal.
The decision making process in Ireland is heavily weighted against asylum seekers. The authorities have consistently failed to implement the minimum standards on the procedures to be applied for considering claims (the ‘Procedures Directive’), a failure which has led to the European Commission referring Ireland to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The Directive contains minimum standards for ensuring that applicants are afforded the best opportunity to have their claim fairly and transparently considered. It contains measures such as the need for early and free legal advice, the provision of independent interpreters and the recording of interviews, none of which are present in the Irish asylum system.
In contrast, one piece of EU asylum legislation which the Irish authorities are keen to apply is the Dublin II Regulation, which determines which EU country is responsible for consideration of the asylum claim. In its report for 2009, The Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) stated that it “continued to maximise the use of the Dublin II Regulation”.
In 2009, for example, just under 20% of applications for asylum in Ireland were determined by Ireland obtaining the agreement of another EU country to take back or accept responsibility for the case and seeking then to transfer the person to that country. This is despite concerns about the very poor quality of the asylum processes in other countries, most notably Greece.
On 28th October 2010, the Irish Refugee Council wrote to Dermot Ahern TD, then Minister for Justice, to ask him, in line with other EU countries, to suspend transfers to Greece and consider applications in Ireland. Although his office acknowledged the letter, the IRC has never received a reply to the issue raised.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled on 21st January 2011 that it is unlawful to send asylum seekers to Greece, holding that the treatment of an Afghan asylum seeker in Greece violated, for example, the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment . In cases where Ireland has succeeded in transferring an asylum seeker to Greece, it could now find itself liable for substantial damages.
It is a shame that those responsible for the Irish asylum system are not embarrassed by the low rate of acceptance of asylum applications in Ireland but instead see it is a mark of the ‘integrity of the system’. In a statement released on 7th January 2011, The Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern TD, stated:
“I welcome the progress that continues to be made in the processing of asylum applications....The reduction in asylum applications in Ireland is a reflection of the ongoing work of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service including the asylum agencies to combat abuse while at the same time ensuring fairness and improving the effectiveness and efficiency of procedures in this area”.The high financial and human costs of what is, in reality, a weak and inefficient asylum system, remain to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the task ahead for the Irish Refugee Council in a worsening economic and political crisis could not be more stark.