Wednesday, June 18, 2014


In the recent case of Nawaz, the Court of Justice of the European Union criticised the Irish asylum application procedure for lack of basic fairness and stated that it should be possible to submit the applications for refugee status and subsidiary protection status at the same time, in other words, that there should be a single procedure for asylum applications.

There are many problems with the current procedure in Ireland, which is that applicants seeking subsidiary protection status must apply first for, and be refused, refugee status. Ireland is the only country in the EU which this two stage application. Indeed, Ireland has among the lowest grant rates in the EU for subsidiary protection status, granting only 30 last year. Subsidiary protection applies to third country nationals who would be at risk of being killed, tortured or at risk of human rights abuses if they were deported, but who do not fit the narrower criteria of refugee status.

Applications for refugee status are processed by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC). If ORAC does not recommend granting refugee status, the applicant may appeal to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, or may wait for a deportation order. It is only at the point of the deportation order that an application for subsidiary protection can be made.

The separation of these applications over different stages is a problem mainly because it causes asylum seekers, who may be clearly applicable to subsidiary protection, to go through the process of applying to refugee status. This means that they may spend unnecessarily long periods of time living in Direct Provision centres, which have been internationally condemned for their poor conditions. Asylum seekers spend 45 months, on average, in Direct Provision centres, while 845 people have spent more than 6 years in the system. This has significant personal consequences on the asylum seeker who have suffered severe traumas in their country of origin and also places a burden on the state. In 2012, the cost of the Direct Provision centres was €62.3 million.

The single procedure is being advocated as the main solution to replace the problematic system currently in Ireland. The single procedure would end the two stage process of applying for subsidiary protection. A single procedure for asylum applications would lead to faster processing, reducing the length of time individuals and families spend in Direct Provision centres and provide comprehensive access to all forms of international protection. It is possible that the single procedure would make decision-making more complicated, in that, applications for refugee status and subsidiary protection status would have to be considered simultaneously. Complications arising from this may include errors in decision making which may in turn lead to deportation of people who are genuinely at risk. Thus, it is crucial that the new single procedure system be well resourced and managed. 

The single procedure was first introduced in Ireland in the Immigration Residence and Protection Bill 2008. However, this Bill has been repeatedly delayed. Therefore, especially with the recent ruling of Nawaz, it is necessary that the government legislate immediately for a single procedure for asylum applicants, possibly separately from the other issues contained in the Bill for the sake of expediency. 

Ciara Dowd

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