Check against delivery

Commencement Matter

“The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to provide an update on the Government promise to take 4000 refugees and asylums seekers into Ireland by Sept 2017 under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, to date the Government have only accepted 1238. I am asking the Minister to set out the Government’s intention to get this commitment back on track.”

- Senator Victor Boylan  

 

Opening remarks by Minister Zappone on behalf of the Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald TD 

 

13 June 2017

 

To reflect the will of the people of Ireland to assist those most vulnerable who are fleeing conflict and persecution, the Government established the Irish Refugee Protection Programme in September 2015.  

 

Under this programme, the Government pledged to accept up to 4,000 persons overall into the State by the end of 2017 under the EU Relocation and Resettlement Programmes. People have been arriving into Ireland under the programme since January 2016.  

Ireland has an established national resettlement programme under the UNHCR-led scheme and our past successes in implementing this programme has greatly assisted in the successful delivery of our commitments under the EU programme. In fact, we were one of the first EU Member States to fulfil our pledge under the July 2015 Agreement, a full year ahead of schedule.  

As a result, we doubled our quota in terms of resettling people from Lebanon, from 520 to 1,040. 779 people have been resettled thus far and the remainder have been selected and will be brought into Ireland by the end of the year. It is likely that further resettlement missions will be undertaken to Lebanon to bring further people into Ireland under the resettlement programme post-2017.  

The Relocation programme has been more challenging. An EU-wide solidarity mechanism on this scale is unprecedented. Our voluntary opt-in to the programme was warmly appreciated by our EU partners. Naturally, there have been difficulties in establishing the necessary infrastructure and standard operating procedures at Union level, particularly given the very challenging environment of the island hotspots. In total, just over 20,000 people have, to date, been relocated across the EU Member States. So far, we have relocated 459 asylum seekers from Greece and a further 320 people in Greece have been assessed and cleared for travel. By September, we will have relocated just under 1,100 asylum seekers from Greece.  

Relocation from Italy has not yet been possible, as the Italian authorities have not allowed the law enforcement authorities of other Member States to conduct security assessments of candidates on its soil. We have made repeated efforts at all levels, including at senior Ministerial level, to resolve this issue and the Commission has called on Italy to show greater flexibility in this regard. If an acceptable solution is found, we can commence relocating eligible candidates from Italy.  

 

Senators should be aware that the number of asylum seekers who have been registered in Italy and Greece and who are eligible for the relocation programme falls well short, at present, of the 160,000 originally envisaged in the two EU Council Decisions. A concerted effort by all Member States between now and the end of September could ensure that all those eligible are relocated. Ireland is doing everything it can to give effect to our commitments. The intensive efforts and resources that the Department has invested in the relocation programme should not be underestimated.  

In a further gesture of humanitarian assistance towards the most vulnerable caught up in the migration crisis and following a debate in the Dáil, the Government also committed to taking up to 200 unaccompanied minors from France who were previously resident in the migrant camp at Calais. All unaccompanied minors who have been referred to us by the French authorities have been admitted to Ireland. These unaccompanied minors have “programme refugee” status on arrival, the highest form of protection that the State can offer.  

Should it be the case that despite all Ireland's efforts, the relocation mechanism does not permit Ireland to take in sufficient numbers of asylum seekers under relocation, then the Government commitment to take in 4,000 people remains, and Ireland will take in these numbers through other mechanisms should this prove necessary.  

ENDS