Dáil Éireann - Volume 531 - 01 March, 2001

Written Answers. - Asylum Applications.

33. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, in view of the frequently repeated media and other references to bogus asylum seekers in media reports conveying information attributed to sources in the Minister's Department, he will clarify if the term is approved for use by officials of his Department; if so, the category of asylum seeker to which it refers; the condition under which it may be applicable; and, if the use of the term is not approved, if he will instruct his officials and those of agencies under the aegis of his Department not to use it. [6207/01]

111. Mr. Shatter asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the meaning which is attached to the use of the term “illegal” when used with reference to asylum seekers by officials [1339] of his Department; and the instructions he has issued to his officials with regard to its use in contacts with the media or otherwise. [6285/01]

112. Mr. Shatter asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, in view of the frequently repeated media and other references to bogus asylum seekers in media reports conveying information attributed to sources in the Minister's Department, he will clarify if this term is approved for use by officials of his Department; if so, the category of asylum seeker to which it refers; the condition under which it may be applicable; and, if the use of the term is not approved, he will instruct his officials and those of agencies under the aegis of his Department not to use it. [6286/01]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I propose to take Questions Nos. 33, 111 and 112 together.

It is neither practical nor reasonable to expect me to address questions relating to the use of terminology by media organisations as referred to in the Deputies' questions in the absence of adequate additional information on the context and general circumstances in which such terminology was used in any particular case.

The statutory provisions, determining factors and terminology governing the grant or refusal of an application for refugee status are set out in the Refugee Act, 1996, as amended, which gives effect to the convention relating to the status of refugees of 1951 and the related 1967 protocol. I am informed by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner that where an applicant claims a fear of persecution, that claim is investigated within the definition of a refugee contained in the 1996 Act having regard to the subjective fear of the applicant and to the objective country of origin information. A recommendation is made depending on the circumstances applicable in each individual case. A claim is either well-founded or unfounded having regard to the provisions of the 1996 Act.

I want to emphasise that anyone who is genuinely in need of protection from persecution will be offered that protection in the State in the context of our obligations under the Geneva Convention. Those obligations are at the core of our strategy in the asylum area which centres of the operation of a fast, fair and efficient system which quickly provides determinations in well-founded cases and equally provides an effective, fast and fair response to unfounded claims. However, there is a reality that the asylum system currently operating internationally is being misused and many would argue being extensively abused with large numbers of persons seeking protection under the Geneva Convention for the sole purpose of evading legitimate immigration controls in order to gain a foothold in countries for economic reasons. The UNHCR in the past has also expressed concern about the abuse of asylum [1340] determination systems. Governments and agencies involved are spending vast amounts in dealing with unfounded applications. As well as the heavy financial burden which this places on national exchequers and taxpayers in the receiving countries, it is also diverting resources – both financial and human – away from dealing speedily with those persons whose claims for refugee status are well-founded having regard to the provisions of the 1951 Convention and the 1996 Refugee Act. It is also the reality that our asylum determination process is being abused by traffickers and people smugglers. In these circumstances, it is perhaps inevitable that media and public comment is going to focus on what is seen as very significant misuse of the asylum process.

I also refer the Deputies to my replies to the following Parliamentary Questions: No. 1043 of 30 January 2001 which shows that of the applications considered in the year 2000, only 7 per cent were granted refugee status; No. 169 of 22 February 2001 which draws attention to the substantial number of applications that were withdrawn and deemed abandoned in the year 2000; No. 84 of 7 February 2001 which refers, inter alia, to the decisions made at first instance in respect of asylum applications in 2000. Of the total number of decisions taken at first instance, 97% were refused status. Of those refused status some 35% were found to be manifestly unfounded. Of 1,436 manifestly unfounded first instance decisions considered in 2000 at appeal, 92% were upheld and, accordingly, the respective appeals were refused.