FECL 30 (December 1994/January 1995):

GOVERNMENT PROPOSES LEGISLATION ON ASYLUM

 

Although Ireland is a signatory state of the 1951 Geneva Convention, it lacks legislation that would give legal effect to its obligationsunder the convention. The Government is now proposing to remedy this with a Refugee Bill.

 

The bill is clearly influenced by policy guidelines defined in recent years by the immigration ministers of the 12 EU-member states. Thus, the draft legislation gives wide-ranging powers to the minister responsible for immigration in stating that "the Minister may make such orders as appear to him or her to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of giving effect to the Dublin Convention". This implies that the Minister may by order implement the Dublin Convention according to his discretion without prior approval by parliament.

The bill introduces the category of "manifestly unfounded applications" as introduced by the immigration ministers of the Twelve in November 1992. Under the scheme, the Refugee Board can refrain from considering an application whenever, among other things, an applicant did not reveal immediately travelling on false documents or where an applicant gives "clearly insufficient" details.

This is all the more questionable as the Refugee Board is allowed to make a decision on an application without hearing the applicant and solely based on notes of an interview between an immigration officer and the asylum seeker. The provisions that this interview "shall, where necessary and practicable, be conducted with the assistance of an interpreter" and that the applicant will be informed "where practicable and necessary" that he is entitled to contact a lawyer are unlikely to ensure an acceptable standard of asylum procedures.

The grounds for detention are very wide and include "possession of forged identity documents" or where an applicant "has not established his or her true identity".

The proposed draft provides for the establishment of a Refugee Appeal Tribunal. This body is, however not independent, as its name would indicate, as two civil servants, one each from the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs, outnumber the third member of the "Tribunal", who is to be an independent lawyer.

Commenting on the draft, the Irish section of Amnesty International is "deeply concerned" that the government has not taken the opportunity to draft a legislation which would "guarantee the rights of asylum applicants and make Ireland's asylum procedures of the highest standard, which it promised under the programme for government".

Trócaire, the Catholic Agency for World Development, fears that the draft bill allows a restrictive implementation of the Dublin Convention by ministerial discretion that could result in the expulsion of asylum seekers to countries deemed "safe". Trócaire therefore demands that the law should include safeguards preventing the forcible return of asylum seekers to third countries where they have made merely "genuine transit stops". Trócaire further questions the very principle of "safe". "At the very least, we should argue for a clear and open elaboration of how Ireland proposes to determine those countries, "where there is no evidence of persecution".

 

Sources: AI-Irish Section: Refugee Bill '94 Position Paper; Trócaire: Summary Briefing paper on the Refugee Bill; Irish Times, 8.8.94, 3.10.94, 6.10.94.