This report was previously updated in April 2021.
- Key asylum statistics: In 2021, 2,649 asylum applications were lodged. The International Protection Office (IPO) issued a total of 1,545 decisions, the vast majority of which (1,459) were positive. Among these, 868 decisions recognised international protection to the applicants, while 591 granted humanitarian permission to remain. The average length of the procedure was of 23 months for unprioritized cases, 14 for prioritised cases and 13.5 months for appeals. A total of 1,214 personal interviews were conducted throughout the year.
- Processing of applications: The International Protection Office continues to process cases. However, according to the latest available statistics, the number of international protection applications throughout 2021 has remained lower than in recent years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of December 2021, there was a total of 2649 applications for international protection made throughout the year. This marked an increase of approximately 69.2% on the figure for the same period in 2020.
- Length of procedure: Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ireland, persons whose circumstances fell outside the prioritisation criteria were waiting between 8-10 months for their substantive international protection interview, whilst applicants who successfully requested prioritisation were likely to be interviewed within 5 months. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, restrictions on the operation of the International Protection Office have resulted in significant delays to the overall procedure. The latest figures from the Department of Justice indicate that individuals whose circumstances fall outside the prioritisation criteria are waiting approximately 23 months for a decision on their application, while those who successfully seek prioritisation are waiting approximately 14 months. This marks an increase on the previous reporting period (18 months for non-prioritised applications and 14 months for prioritised applications), despite a commitment by the Department of Justice to reduce the overall processing time to 6 months in line with the recommendations of the Expert Advisory Group. The median waiting period for appeals before the IPAT was 13.5 months.
- Remote international protection interviews: Following a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in December 2020, public health restrictions were reintroduced and all substantive protection interviews at the IPO were postponed in line with government guidelines. Interviews recommenced in early May 2021 on a remote basis and continued to take place via video conference until February 2022, in line with public health guidance. In practice, the applicant was required to attend the IPO in person and the interview was conducted via video conference, with the applicant located in one room and the International Protection Officer in another room. Legal representatives and interpreters were required to attend remotely via video-link. In late February 2022, substantive interviews began to take place in-person again following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
- Appeals: All appeals deemed suitable proceeded before the IPAT on a remote basis via audio-video link. In circumstances where an appeal was deemed unsuitable to proceed remotely, the appeal was postponed and subsequently rescheduled. From 4 October 2021, the Tribunal began facilitating a limited number of oral hearings on-site in situations whereby to proceed with the oral appeal remotely would be contrary to the interests of justice. Otherwise, the Tribunal continued to conduct appeal hearings remotely via audio-video links. From the 1st January 2021 to the 21st of December 2021, the IPAT conducted a total of 651 hearings by way of audio-video link.
- Revised international protection questionnaire: In October 2021, the International Protection Office introduced a revised international protection questionnaire. The revised questionnaire is substantially shorter and more user-friendly than its predecessor. Additionally, the questionnaire can now be downloaded from the IPO’s website, completed and returned by email. The revised questionnaire is available in English, French and Arabic.
- Response to the situation in Afghanistan: 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. 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. 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. In September 2021, the Irish Government also approved the introduction of the Afghan Admissions Programme, enabling 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 – either living in Afghanistan or who have recently fled to neighbouring territories – to apply for temporary residence in Ireland. The programme envisages the admission of up to 500 Afghan nationals to Ireland. While welcoming the introduction of the programme, the Irish Refugee Council, along with several other migrant rights organisations, highlighted various points of concern, including the limited number of places available and the restrictive eligibility criteria.
- Response to the situation in Ukraine as of 15 April 2022: Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Irish government announced that a visa waiver would apply to all Ukrainian nationals entering Ireland. As of March 2022, the visa waiver applied only to Ukrainian nationals and persons with international protection status in Ukraine. Non-EEA nationals, if they were visa required nationals, would still need a visa to enter Ireland. Those who travelled to Ireland under the visa waiver will have a period of 90 days in which to regularise their status in the State. The Irish Government has asked all airline carriers to accept Government-issued identity documents, not usually accepted for the purposes of international travel, in lieu of a national passport: including, National ID Cards, Birth Certificates, Internal Passports, and expired passports. Following the activation of the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD), the Irish Government established a special status to be conferred on Ukrainian nationals, beneficiaries of international protection status, stateless persons, and the family members of the above. This status also applies to third country nationals in circumstances where it can be demonstrated that it is unsafe for the individual to return to their country of origin. This status permits eligible individuals who resided in the Ukraine prior to 24 February 2022 to access to the labour market, social welfare systems and medical care on the same basis as Irish citizens. This permission will initially be for one-year and may be renewable, depending on how matters progress. The activation of the TPD does not affect an individual’s right to apply for international protection in Ireland. A reception centre was opened at the Dublin Airport in order to process applications for persons arriving in Ireland from Ukraine. The centre operates from 8:00am to 3:00am daily. Individuals are provided with temporary protection letters, PPS numbers, medical cards and other relevant supports and advice. The Department of Justice and the Department of Children have established offices in the centre and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) is supporting the operation of facility. Translation services are also provided where required. Further Ukraine Support Centres have been established in Dublin city centre, Limerick, and Cork. Individuals requiring immediate accommodation in the State have thus far been accommodated in IPAS accommodation. The Irish Red Cross, in conjunction with the government, established an accommodation pledge programme in which Irish residents can pledge a spare room in their home or a vacant property in which to accommodate Ukrainian refugees. As of April 2022, approximately 21,000 persons have travelled to Ireland since the onset of the crisis, and this is expected to continue to increase over the coming weeks and months.
- Vulnerability assessments: Regulation 8 of the European Union (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018 provides for the establishment of a vulnerability assessment process. Until January 2021 however, no standardised assessment was carried out in respect of vulnerable international protection applicants, despite this being a clear requirement under EU law. At the end of January 2021, a pilot project to assess the vulnerability of applicants was established at Balseskin reception centre in Dublin. The pilot scheme has been extended to all new international protection applicants and aims to determine whether the applicant has special reception needs arising from any vulnerabilities identified. From 1 February 2021 to the 31 December 2021, 686 vulnerability assessments were undertaken and 438 applicants were identified as having some form of vulnerability. While welcoming the introduction of the pilot scheme, the Irish Refugee Council have identified a number of issues of concern in respect of both the process and procedure by which vulnerability assessments are being conducted, for example, inconsistencies in the manner in which assessments are carried out and failure to provide suitable supports in line with identified needs of the applicants.
- Reception capacity and continued use of emergency centres: Capacity in Direct Provision accommodation centres continued to be a significant issue throughout the year. As of January 2022, 1,065 individuals were housed in emergency accommodation. The housing crisis in Ireland continued to exacerbate the situation, meaning that individuals who have been granted protection status or permission to remain have been unable to leave Direct Provision accommodation owing to a lack of available and affordable housing. Additionally, given the sustained risk of COVID-19, emergency centres continued to operate so as to enable Direct Provisions residents to socially distance, and reduce over-crowding. These centres were also used to facilitate self-isolation for those who contracted COVID-19. Despite a commitment by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, to decommission the use of emergency accommodation prior to year-end, 24 emergency accommodation centres remained in operation as of December 2021.
- Ending Direct Provision: In February 2021, the Government published the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision. The paper establishes a variety of measures aimed at replacing the system of Direct Provision with a not-for-profit accommodation model and sets out a roadmap towards establishing a new international protection support service, to be in place by 2024. The publication of the White Paper was informed by the Report of the Advisory Group on the Provision of Support including Accommodation to Persons in the International Protection Process, chaired by Dr Catherine Day. Following the publication of the White Paper, a staff team was established in the Department of Justice in order to lead the transition to a new accommodation model for international protection applicants, while the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth appointed a programme board, including officials from the relevant Departments and agencies, as well as independent members from various non-governmental organisations, tasked with overseeing the transition to the new model. Additionally, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, working with the Housing Agency, has begun the acquisition of properties for use during phase 2, that is, after people have completed an initial four months in a reception and integration centre and are moved into the community. It was envisaged that applicants would move into this accommodation beginning in 2022 and for this process to accelerate in the following years as more properties are acquired, however, as of March 2022, this has yet to materialise.
- Establishment of STAD (Standing Against Direct Provision) Coalition: The STAD coalition was founded by eight NGOs in January 2022 with a view to lobbying the Government to deliver on the commitment to bring an end to direct provision in the next two years. The coalition’s primary aim is to replace Direct Provision with an alternative system by 2024, ensure that all emergency reception centres are closed as an immediate priority and reduce processing times for international protection applications and appeals. STAD has also called for the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) to be provided with a mandate to independently inspect Direct Provision centres while they remain operation. Furthermore, the Coalition requested that urgent measures identified in the Advisory Group report – such as an increase in the daily expenses allowance, making the right to work available after three months, and the provision a comprehensive vulnerability assessment to all applicants for international protection be implemented immediately.
- Implementation of the National Standards on Direct Provision: The National Standards became applicable and legally binding on the 1 January 2021. It was hoped that a mechanism for independent monitoring the implementation of the standards would be established soon thereafter, but inspections continued to be carried out by IPAS and a private contractor. In October 2021, Minister Roderic O’Gorman confirmed that that Direct Provision Accommodation Centres are to be monitored by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) for compliance with the National Standards. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is currently engaging with HIQA and the Department of Health with a view to undertaking the preparatory work with regard to HIQA’s monitoring role. In parallel with this process, the Health (Inspection of Emergency Homeless Accommodation and Asylum Seekers Accommodation) Bill is currently before the Dáil with a view to placing HIQA’s monitoring role on statutory footing.
- Provision of reception conditions persons subject to the inadmissibility procedure: Previously, the IPO determined that persons subject to the inadmissibility procedure were not protection applicants within the meaning of the Reception Conditions Regulation. Thus, a recommendation of inadmissibility rendered an individual ineligible for access to reception conditions such as accommodation, the daily expense allowance, or medical cards. In March 2021, the Irish Refugee Council wrote to the IPO, IPAS and the HSE, advocating that an individual who has received a recommendation that an international protection applicant be subject to the inadmissibility should continue to receive reception conditions on the basis that no final determination of their application has been made. Following engagement by IRC with relevant stakeholders, it was determined that an individual remains an ‘applicant’ within the meaning of the 2015 Act unless and until the Minister declares their application to be inadmissible pursuant to s.21(11), therefore entitling them to material reception conditions. From September 2021, the IPO began applying this interpretation to all individuals subject to the inadmissibility procedure.
- Provision of medical cards to those living outside Direct Provision: Following numerous complaints to the Department of Health and the Ombudsman, the HSE’s Medical Card Unit amended their policy as to enable eligible international protection applicants living outside of Direct Provision to obtain medical cards and access free medical services, prescription medicines and hospital care. Under the previous policy, international protection applicants residing outside of Direct Provision were deemed ineligible for medical cards, with many struggling to access healthcare services as a result.
- Provision of driving licences to those in the International Protection Process: In November 2021, two international protection applicants successfully challenged by way of judicial review a decision by the Road Safety Authority (the ‘RSA’) to refuse them permission to exchange their full driver licences, issued by their country of origin, for Irish licences. Mr. Justice Heslin ruled that the applicant’s presence in Ireland had to be considered lawful, based on their permission to remain. The government indicated that legislation will be required to give effect to the judgment; however, this had yet to be implemented at time of writing.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Dedicated immigration detention facilities: Following the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture’s 7th periodic visit report on Ireland, it was determined that steps ought to be taken to address the unsuitable detention of immigration detainees in prisons. In December 2021, it was announced that work had been completed on a new Block F in Cloverhill Remand Prison, which is intended to accommodate persons detained for immigration purposes and ensure that they are housed separately from prisoners on remand. Throughout the pandemic, Block F was repurposed as an isolation unit for prisoners who contracted COVID-19, to manage and control infection risk. It is intended that when the pandemic ends, Block F will revert to its original intended use, however, in the interim, persons detained for immigration purposes continue to be housed with the general prison population. Additionally, a purpose-built immigration facility was opened at Dublin Airport for use in circumstances where persons are refused leave to land. The facility houses the newly opened Dublin Airport Garda Station and the Garda National Immigration Bureau. The Garda station contains four single person cells and two additional detention rooms. While the building works have completed, the cells are not yet operation. According to the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, it is intended that GNIB will detain persons refused leave to land at the detention facility once it is fully commissioned. As of February 2022, there has been no further update regarding the time in which the facility is expected to become operational.
Content of international protection
- New citizenship measures: Significant changes were introduced for citizenship applicants regarding the number of proofs required to establish identity and residency for the purposes of making a naturalisation application. From January 2022, the Department started employing a scorecard approach in the assessment of identification and residence history. Applicants are now required to reach a score of 150 points in each of the years of proof of residency required according to their particular circumstances by submitting proofs with a predetermined point value. Additionally, from January 2022, new applicants for citizenship are not required to submit their original passport with their initial application. Instead, applicants can now provide a full colour copy of each page of their passport and all previous passports containing stamps which contribute towards the period of reckonable residency claimed. The colour copy must be certified by a solicitor, commissioner for oaths or notary public and submitted along with the application form.
- Regularisation Scheme for Long Term Undocumented Migrants: On 3 December 2021, the Minister for Justice announced the establishment of a scheme to regularise long-term undocumented migrants which opened for applications on 31 January 2022. Applications will be accepted for a six-month period until 31 July 2022. The scheme will enable applicants and their eligible dependants to remain and reside in Ireland and to regularise their residence status whereby the applicant has a period of 4 years residence in the State without an immigration permission, or 3 years for applicants with minor children, immediately prior to the date on which the scheme opens for applications. Those with an existing Deportation Order can apply whereby they meet the minimum undocumented residence requirement. Applicants must meet standards regarding good character and criminal record/behaviour and not pose a threat to the State. Having convictions for minor offences will not result, of itself, in disqualification. International protection applicants who have an outstanding application for international protection and have been in the asylum process for a minimum of 2 years will also be permitted to apply and will have a separate application process. Applications for those in the International Protection strand opened on 7 February 2022 and will be open for six months. The International Protection Office have indicated that eligible applicants will be contacted directly with further details on the application process in due course.
 Statistics provided by IPO, April 2022.
 Information provided by IPAT, February 2022.
 Information provided by IRC Independent Law Centre, February 2022.
 Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman, Response to Parliamentary Question Nos 8, 13, 19, 30, 50, 65, 72, 73, 298 and 306, 24 March 2022, available at: https://bitly.com.
 Advisory Group on Direct Provision, Report of the Advisory Group on the Provision of Support including Accommodation to Persons in the International Protection Process, 21 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3qgSmC3.
 Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman, Response to Parliamentary Question Nos 12, 14, 74, 77 and 82, 3 December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/33ZH4vX.
 Health (Inspection of Emergency Homeless Accommodation and Asylum Seekers Accommodation) Bill 2021.
 Information received from IPO, 3 September 2021.