DÁIL QUESTIONS addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Mr. Shatter) relied to on Tuesday, 21st June, 2011. QUESTION NO: 297 To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason there are hundreds of asylum seekers still living in reception centres, up to ten years in some cases, waiting on decisions regarding their status.. REPLY. Applications for refugee status in the State are determined by an independent process comprising the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) which make recommendations to the Minister for Justice and Equality on whether such status should be granted. During 2010, the median processing time for asylum applications by the ORAC was 6 to 7 weeks from the date of application in the case of prioritised applications, and 9 weeks from the date of application in the case of non-prioritised applications. The median processing times for RAT appeals in 2010 was 33 weeks in the case of substantive appeals (cases involving an oral hearing) and 9 weeks in the case of accelerated appeals (appeals on the papers). I would point out that some cases can take significantly longer to complete due to, for example, delays arising from medical issues, non-availability of interpreters or because of judicial review proceedings. All asylum applications and appeals are processed in accordance with the Refugee Act 1996 and high quality and fair decision-making in all cases continues to be a key priority at all stages of the asylum process. Without getting into the specifics of individual cases I would say that the length of time spent in the direct provision system cannot be attributed to any inaction or unnecessary delays on the part of the statutory independent agencies involved in the refugee status determination process or by my own Department. For the sake of completeness, I should also state that persons who are refused a declaration under Section 17 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended) enter what is commonly referred to as the "leave to remain" process which generally has two elements to it; an application for subsidiary protection and further consideration to be given under Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended). This is separate to the asylum or refugee status determination process. The processing of cases at this point is also complex and extremely resource intensive given that where an application for subsidiary protection is lodged in addition to representations for consideration under Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), the subsidiary protection application must be considered first to assess whether the applicant has an identifiable need for international protection. The investigation of such applications requires a fresh examination of the entire asylum file, the documentation and country of origin information submitted in support of the application, as well as an examination of objective, reputable, up to date country of origin information before a conclusion can be arrived at as to whether or not the applicant is likely to be exposed to 'serious harm' if returned to his/her country of origin. Where such an application is refused, consideration must then be given to the case in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), at which point the Minister must make a decision whether or not to make a deportation order in respect of the person. All of this must be done in strict compliance with the Constitution, together with relevant international law including the European Convention on Human Rights. It will be seen that these are not quick or easy decisions to make and, given the life changing consequences for the persons involved, these are decisions which must be taken with the most scrupulous care and attention. The Deputy might like to note that I have taken steps to speed up the processing of these applications by redeploying staff from the refugee determination bodies primarily. The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 which provides for the introduction of a single procedure to determine applications for protection and other reasons to remain in the State, should substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements. This re-organisation of the protection application processing framework will remove the current multi-layered processes and provide applicants with a final decision on their application in a more ‘straight forward’ and timely fashion. The Deputy is probably aware that I am currently developing a number of amendments to the Bill before commencing Committee Stage which I hope to be in a position to do in the near future. QUESTION NO: 298 To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason Ireland is not complying with EU Reception Directive which provides for minimum conditions for asylum seekers, including the right to work after waiting for a year for a decision.. REPLY. Following the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty the legal basis for Council Directive 2003/9/EC laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers is Article 78(2)(f) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Accordingly, the provisions of the EU Treaty Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice applies. The Protocol provides that Ireland may opt-in to a measure to which the Protocol applies. Ireland did not participate in the adoption and application of the 2003 Directive and there are currently no plans to exercise an opt-in in relation to it. The principal reason for Ireland's position is the provisions of Article 11 of the 2003 Directive which deals with access to the labour market for asylum seekers. Article 11 provides that if a decision at first instance has not been taken within one year of the presentation of an application for asylum, and this delay can not be attributed to the applicant, Member States shall decide the conditions for granting access to the labour market for the applicant. This is contrary to the existing statutory position in Ireland which provides that an asylum seeker shall not seek or enter employment. This prohibition in Irish law is maintained in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010, which was recently restored to the Dáil order paper. Extending the right to work to asylum seekers would almost certainly have a profoundly negative impact on application numbers, as was experienced in the aftermath of the July 1999 decision to do so. The immediate effect of that measure was a threefold increase in the average number of applications per month leading to a figure of 1,217 applications in December 1999 compared with an average of 364 per month for the period January to July 1999. Any change in public policy in this area would have to have regard to the very large numbers of people unemployed in this country. QUESTION NO: 299 To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason the average percentage of asylum seekers receiving status is 27% across Europe and only 1% here.. REPLY. The Deputy refers to Ireland’s first instance recognition rate as computed by Eurostat (the EU Statistical Agency). It should be noted that this calculation is based on positive decisions as a proportion of all decisions made at first instance. This is important as the calculation for Ireland differs from that of almost all other EU Member States. The reason for this is that Ireland does not operate a single procedure. Therefore the calculation of our recognition rate at first instance does not include subsidiary protection decisions and decisions made for humanitarian reasons. When these elements are excluded, the recognition rate for other EU states at first instance is also low. Poland for example has a rate of just 6.3%. There are a number of other reasons for Ireland's apparently low recognition rate. Firstly, the profile of our asylum applicants differs to many other EU Member States. This is likely to be due to our geographic location and the fact that access to Ireland by persons fleeing persecution is less direct. For example, using the Eurostat figures Afghanistan and Somalia accounted for 13.6% of asylum applications across EU Member States in 2010 but less than 6% of applications in Ireland. In contrast, our largest source country historically for asylum applications is Nigeria which accounted for 20% of all asylum applications in 2010 but only 2.6% of all applications to EU Member States. The recognition rate for applications from Afghanistan and Somalia are high (44% and 66.7% respectively) across EU Member States while the recognition rate for Nigerian applications is low running at just 6.5%. Many EU states also have particularly low numbers of decisions. For instance Portugal had just 130 decisions in 2010 with a recognition rate of 42.3%. In such cases involving low numbers of decisions it is difficult to make a meaningful comparison of recognition rates. It must also be noted that a large proportion of Ireland's asylum applications are also processed under the Dublin II Regulation; are withdrawn or deemed withdrawn; or are made in respect of children under 3 years of age by parents who may have failed the asylum process. In total, determinations in relation to these three categories of applicant accounted for over half of all refused applications at first instance in 2010. Finally, I might add that the investigation of asylum applications is conducted by trained officials authorised by the Refugee Applications Commissioner under the provisions of the Refugee Act, 1996. These officials are trained according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) programmes and are given refresher training delivered by specialist trainers from the UNHCR. QUESTION NO: 300 To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will consider reviewing the entire treatment of asylum seekers here in order to protect their basic human rights.. REPLY. I am committed to Ireland fulfilling its international obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. The Convention provides for a system of international protection for persons who are unable or unwilling to avail of the protection of their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted. Ireland's asylum system is based on a number of key principles which are common to all EU Member States. These principles are also in keeping with the highest standards as enunciated by the UNHCR. There is no question, therefore, of Ireland not protecting the human rights of asylum seekers. These principles include: meeting our obligations under international law such as the 1951 Convention; a fair refugee status determination process which includes a right of appeal, legal advice if required, personal interview and the possibility of judicial review. ensuring that we have robust systems in place to prevent abuse of our asylum system by persons who enter the State for purposes other than seeking protection from persecution and; ensuring that persons who are found, after a fair and efficient determination process, not to be in need of protection are returned to their countries of origin as quickly as this can be arranged. The Government policy of Direct Provision for asylum seekers ensures that a suitable standard of accommodation, food, medical and other services is maintained. This is a fair system for meeting the needs of asylum seekers in a cost-effective manner. It is line with asylum seeker reception arrangements in other EU countries and indeed, in some cases, it is of a much higher standard. I recently decided to restore to the Dáil order paper the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. The Bill, which was published in 2010, comprehensively reforms and simplifies the current refugee status determination process. It proposes, inter alia, the introduction of a single procedure for the investigation of all grounds for protection presented by applicants. This change of the processing framework will remove the current multi-layered and sequential process associated with the existing system. This will allow an applicant to get a final decision on their application in a more efficient manner. Together with other provisions of the Bill, it is anticipated that the time required to reach a final decision in a given case will be reduced, which can only be in the interests of the applicant and indeed the integrity of the refugee status determination process. I am currently developing a number of amendments to the Bill before commencing Committee Stage, which I hope to be in a position to do in the near future.