Legislation in Ireland does not single out any application from a specific nationality as manifestly well-founded in the context of the regular procedure. However, with respect to the scheduling of substantive interviews of applicants, the IPO may prioritise cases of certain nationalities on the basis of ‘the likelihood that applications are well-founded due to the country of origin or habitual residence of applicants. The Department of Justice has specified that applications from persons from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Eritrea and Somalia may be prioritised on the basis ‘of country of origin information, protection determination rates in EU member states and UNHCR position papers indicating the likely well-foundedness of applications from such countries. Prioritisation of protection applicants from these states continued throughout 2022, however, it remains to be seen how this process will operate in light of the accelerated procedure in respect of safe countries of origin.
Protection applicants who arrived through the EU relocation scheme in 2016 and 2017, predominantly Syrian nationals, had to complete the application questionnaire but were subject to an expedited procedure and usually received a decision within three months of arrival in the State. At the beginning of the relocation process, some were subject to a personal interview but latterly they were not. By March 2018, the majority of Ireland’s commitments under the EU relocation scheme had been fulfilled. Overall, 1,022 asylum seekers were successfully relocated in the state.
In August 2021, in response to the emerging humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the Department of Justice confirmed that it would begin prioritising international protection applications from Afghan nationals in line with updated advice provided by UNHCR. In the experience of the Irish Refugee Council, the IPO dispensed with interviews for many Afghan nationals, who were subsequently issued with Declarations of Refugee status on a papers-only basis. This practice continued throughout 2023 in some, but not all cases. Afghan nationals facing transfers to other EU countries pursuant to the Dublin III procedure had their applications for international protection examined in Ireland on compassionate grounds.
The Department also confirmed that applications for family reunification made by Afghan nationals pursuant to the International Protection Act 2015 would now be prioritised and fast-tracked to completion, with full consideration given to the humanitarian context. However, in the experience of the Irish Refugee Council, this has not been the case in practice. In one case, an application for family was substantially delayed owing to difficulties in acquiring the requisite identification documents for proposed beneficiaries, as well as a refusal on the part of the Family Reunification Unit to accept copy documentation, despite the obvious issues associated with obtaining original documentation from Afghanistan at present.
Additionally, as of February 2022, the Irish government had provided visa waivers to approximately 532 persons fleeing Afghanistan, with the first group of evacuated refugees arriving in August 2021. Approximately 425 Afghans have arrived in Ireland as of February 2022. The first group of evacuated refugees arrived in August 2021. Newly arrived Afghan refugees have so far been accommodated at one of three Emergency and Orientation Reception Centres in Mosney, Co. Meath, Clonea, Co. Waterford and Balaghaderren, Co. Roscommon.
In September 2021, the Irish Government also approved the introduction of the Afghan Admissions Programme with a view of admitting up to 500 Afghan nationals to Ireland. The programme opened for applications on 16 December 2021 for an eight-week period. The programme enables current or former Afghan nationals legally resident in Ireland on or before 1 September 2021 to apply to nominate up to four close family members, who are living in Afghanistan or who have recently fled to neighbouring territories, including Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, to apply for temporary residence in Ireland.
Sponsors are required to list their four nominated family members in order of priority, in terms of their vulnerability and risk to their freedom and safety. The Department of Justice have indicated that information provided in respect of each family member will be important in assisting the determination of who is deemed most vulnerable in view of prioritising their application. The programme outlines which family members who are to be covered by the scheme. The list includes spouses, civil partners, de facto partners, minor and adult children whereby they are unmarried and without dependants, grandparents, related minor children without parents for whom the applicant has parental responsibility and vulnerable close family members who do not have a spouse, partner or another close relative to support them. The eligibility criteria requires that the sponsor be able to maintain their nominated family members upon their arrival in Ireland, including providing them with suitable accommodation. It should also be noted that the four-beneficiary limit applies per household, instead of per sponsor. Thus, where two or more sponsors live together as part of the same household, they will be entitled to nominate up to four beneficiaries in total, as opposed to four per person.
While the introduction of the programme is certainly a welcome development in the Government’s overall response to the evolving humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the Irish Refugee Council raised numerous concerns regarding some aspects that may undermine the overall efficacy of the programme. Firstly, based on initial interest in the programme from potential sponsors, the 500 places on the programme falls short of demand; a second concern is that the four-beneficiary limit per household may impact family unity. For this reason, the Irish Refugee Council called upon the government to apply this limit in a flexible manner, to ensure that families with more than four members are permitted to stay together. Additionally, the requirement that sponsors be able to maintain their family members upon arrival in Ireland risks excluding persons who were recently recognised as refugees and have not yet had adequate time to establish themselves, as well as those with disabilities or caring responsibilities. Finally, it will be necessary for the Government to operate the programme in such a way that successful beneficiaries who do not have a valid passport are issued with an Irish travel document so as to enable safe passage to Ireland.
The programme opened for applications on the 16th of December 2021 and closed on the 11th of March 2022. There was a total of 528 applications and as of 28th of November 2022, just 22 applications had been approved, despite the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.