Minister Fitzgerald publishes General Scheme of the International Protection Bill to reduce waiting times for asylum applicants
A single procedure for international protection applications to replace existing multi-layered system
Minister Fitzgerald: “This Bill will achieve the desired balance in treating asylum seekers with humanity and respect while ensuring more efficient immigration procedures and safeguards.”
New framework will enable timely and efficient protection decisions.
Wednesday 25 March 2015
Frances Fitzgerald T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality, today published the General Scheme of the International Protection Bill which was approved by Government.
This is the first step in delivering the Government’s undertaking to reduce the length of time asylum applicants spend in the direct provision system through establishing a single applications procedure for international protection. The undertaking has been made under the Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016.
Minister Fitzgerald successfully proposed that the Government fast-track this reforming legislation to achieve early implementation of the new single procedure.
The new and substantial International Protection Bill contained in today’s published Scheme will deal with the key issues of qualification for international protection, including:
- examination and assessment of applications for international protection;
- the rights and entitlements of persons determined to be eligible for international protection;
- effective remedy against refusal of international protection.
Minister Fitzgerald said: “I wanted to see early action to reform the current multi-layered and sequential system which can result in applicants being accommodated in the State’s system of direct provision for indeterminate periods of time.”
The Minister continued: “The introduction of the single procedure, together with other reforms in the proposed International Protection Bill, will enhance our capacity to efficiently grant international protection to those who are entitled to it.
“The single procedure will identify, at a much earlier stage, persons who have no entitlement to stay in the State and who can safely return to their country of origin.
The Minister concluded: “I believe this Bill will achieve the desired balance in treating asylum seekers with humanity and respect while at the same time ensuring more efficient immigration procedures and safeguard.”
The principal objective of today’s published Scheme will be the introduction of a single procedure for the examination of applications for international protection (or asylum) in Ireland, incorporating eligibility for refugee status and eligibility for subsidiary protection status. This will also include, in the examination and determination at first instance, the assessment of any other grounds being presented by the applicant for permission to remain in the State.
- The Minister for Justice and Equality will be the determining authority at first instance for applications for international protection, replacing the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC), which will be subsumed into the Department of Justice. The case officers making decisions under the new structure will be the same staff as in the ORAC. These staff are specialists in processing of protection cases and are trained to UNHCR standards. It should be noted that under the existing legal framework, the Minister makes the final decisions on the granting of refugee status on foot of recommendations of the ORAC. This more streamlined approach will allow the examination of an application to include grounds which would not currently be within the statutory jurisdiction of the ORAC, for example those arising from the European Convention on Human Rights.
- The existing Refugee Appeals Tribunal, which is independent in the exercise of its functions, will be replaced by a newly constituted and independent appeals body to provide an effective remedy against a refusal of refugee status or subsidiary protection at first instance. The newly configured Tribunal will have enhanced features designed to improve the efficient conduct of its business and the consistency of its appeal decisions.
The proposed International Protection Bill is a reforming measure. It will introduce a single legislative instrument for the asylum system in Ireland thereby replacing the current cumbersome framework which is based on the Refugee Act 1996 as significantly amended, and various regulations made between 2006 and 2013 under section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972. It should be noted that this Bill is being introduced in parallel to the ongoing development of a broader Immigration Bill.
The General Scheme of the International Protection Bill is available at http://justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB15000080
Notes for Editors
The General Scheme of the International Protection Bill was approved by Government on 24th March 2015 and will now proceed to detailed drafting. It is being forwarded to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation.
International protection (or asylum) is available to a person who is either a refugee or a person eligible for subsidiary protection. In accordance with the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a person may be eligible for refugee protection on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution in the country of origin for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. A person who is not a refugee may be eligible for subsidiary protection on the basis of a real risk of suffering serious harm if returned to the country of origin.
Under the current system a foreign national who is seeking international protection in Ireland is assessed for eligibility for refugee status at first instance by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC).
An applicant may appeal a refusal by ORAC to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT). If refused refugee status an applicant is then assessed for eligibility for subsidiary protection status at first instance by ORAC with the possibility of an appeal to RAT.
If refused international protection by ORAC and RAT an applicant may make representations to the Minister for Justice and Equality to be allowed leave to remain in the State on other grounds, including grounds based in the European Convention on Human Rights. This multi-layered and sequential system has proven very cumbersome for all parties concerned and can take several years to complete. It is also susceptible to further and costly delay where there is judicial review in relation to any of the decisions arising at the various stages of the existing process.
The Bill proposes to replace the current system with a single procedure whereby an applicant will make one application only and have all grounds for seeking international protection and permission to remain in the State examined by the Minister at first instance. An applicant will be able to appeal a refusal of international protection at first instance to a new Tribunal and an applicant who is unsuccessful at appeal will have the option of voluntary return to his or her country of origin as an alternative to removal from the State.
The Bill will give further effect to the following EU Directives in the field of international protection which are binding on Ireland:
- Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof.
- Council Directive 2004/83/EC of 29 April 2004 on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted.
- Council Directive 2005/85/EC of 1 December 2005 on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status.
The Bill is an important element in the range of actions set out in the Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 in relation to the review and reform of the asylum system.
Working Group on Direct Provision
In October 2014 the terms of reference and the membership were announced of the Working Group to examine improvements to the protection process and the direct provision system.
The terms of reference of the Working Group are essentially concerned with respecting the dignity and improving the quality of life of applicants for international protection while their applications are under examination.
The working group is being chaired by retired High Court Judge Bryan McMahon and its membership is drawn from a range of interests in the international protection area including UNHCR, non-governmental organisations, the protection seeker community, academia and relevant Government Departments and Offices.