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25th September 2017, 00:01:58 UTC

  • Ireland has taken in 552 asylum-seekers, 92% of its legal commitment
  • New community sponsorship programme will empower communities to directly assist with Ireland’s refugee response

European countries have utterly failed to fulfil their commitments to relocate asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy, Amnesty International said, as the two year period in which asylum-seekers are eligible for the relocation scheme comes to a close on 26 September 2017.

“Two years after this scheme was agreed, most EU member states have fundamentally failed refugees and asylum-seekers, shirking their responsibilities and leaving thousands abandoned in Italy and Greece. This isn’t about paying lip service to doing right by refugees and asylum-seekers, it is a legal obligation. Ireland has performed well in settling 552 asylum-seekers, which represents 92% of our legal commitment. We acknowledge the government’s assertions that the delays are not on the Irish end. We urge the government to press not only for a speeding up of these relocations to Ireland, but for a fairer and more effective solution to Europe’s refugee crisis. Other EU countries must step up and make good on the promises they made, or risk being taken to the European Court and potentially facing tough penalties,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

Last week, the Irish government committed to establishing a community sponsorship programme for refugees.  It has been enormously successful in Canada and a number of other countries, including the UK, Argentina and New Zealand, are beginning to develop similar programmes.

“During a visit to Canada earlier this year, I saw the community sponsorship programme in action. I saw communities coming together with a fantastic sense of purpose to support refugees as they settled into their new lives. The programme delivers really positive outcomes for refugees, as well as strengthening, deepening and enriching host communities. People in Ireland have been very generous in their support and solidarity with people forced to flee their homes. Ireland is a welcoming country; a programme like this allows us to extend a welcome to those who desperately need our support,” said Colm O’Gorman.

Amnesty International is calling on all European governments to step up their efforts to fulfil their quotas under the relocation scheme, as well as to accept individuals with protection needs in Italy and Greece through other means, including through work visas and swift family reunification procedures.

Several countries performed very poorly against the relocation targets agreed in September 2015. Among the worst offenders are Poland and Hungary, both of which have refused to accept a single asylum-seeker from Italy and Greece. Slovakia, which unsuccessfully challenged the relocation scheme in the European Court, has only accepted 16 of the 902 asylum-seekers it was assigned, and the Czech Republic only 12 of 2691. Spain has fulfilled just 13.7% of its quota, while Belgium has fulfilled 25.6%. The Netherlands has fulfilled 39.6% of the target it committed to, and Portugal 49.1%. Malta is the only EU country that has fulfilled its quota. Norway and Lichtenstein opted in to the scheme voluntarily, and have both fulfilled their commitments to relocate 1500 and 10 respectively.  Notably, Finland has welcomed 1,951 asylum-seekers (or 94% of its legal commitment).

The relocation scheme, agreed in September 2015, offered asylum-seekers the chance to rebuild their lives in safety after surviving war and persecution and then perilous journeys to reach Europe. In Greece, where thousands of asylum-seekers without family reunification claims have been trapped since the closure of the Greek-Macedonian border in March 2016, relocation has been one of very few formal options available for most people to safely move elsewhere in Europe. Asylum-seekers who arrived on the Greek islands since the EU-Turkey deal was agreed on 20 March 2016, have been unlawfully excluded from the relocation scheme, and many remain trapped on the islands. After the deadline for asylum-seekers to become eligible for the relocation scheme passes, governments can, and must, continue to relocate those already eligible, in line with their obligations.

“Amnesty International has consistently highlighted the continuing failure of the EU to provide safe and legal routes for people fleeing persecution, conflict and other human rights abuses to seek international protection. Many European countries have failed to achieve the modest targets set in 2015. Collectively, we have fulfilled just 28.7% of our relocation promises leaving many thousands of refugees living in limbo in make shift camps on the edges of Europe. When we talk about EU obligations, we must acknowledge that there are the collective obligations of EU states including Ireland. The Irish government must push for policy approaches which fulfil those obligations and which respect and protect the human rights of refugees and migrants. Everybody who arrives in Greece and Italy before the impending deadline should be made eligible for relocation. As well as allowing them to carry on with their lives in safety and dignity, making these people eligible would relieve pressure and improve conditions on the Greek islands, which have deteriorated as arrivals have risen over the summer months,” said Colm O’Gorman.

Notes to editors:
The Irish Government established the Irish Refugee Protection Programme in September 2015. Under this programme, it pledged to accept a total of 4,000 persons into the State: 2,622 asylum seekers through the EU relocation and 1,040 programme refugees under the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme.

Relocation programme:
Ireland has committed to accept 2,622 asylum seekers under the relocation strand of the programme. This total is composed of 1,089 people from Greece, 623 people from Italy and 910 people as yet unallocated. The total number of people who have arrived in Ireland to date under the relocation strand of the Programme is 552, of which 321 are adults and 231 are minors.

Resettlement programme:
As of September 15 2017, Ireland has committed to accept 1,040 refugees by the end of 2017 under the resettlement strand of the programme. Thus far, 785 people have been resettled and the remaining 255 people are due to arrive by early 2018. Of the 785 people in Ireland under resettlement 359 are adults and 426 are minors.