By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Only 6.6 percent of asylum seekers whose applications for refugee status in Ireland were considered last year under the 1951 Geneva Convention were recommended for permission to stay in the country by a new independent office set up by the government.
The figures were released as the gardai stepped up action against illegal immigrants and more than 2,600 failed asylum seekers evading deportation orders.
In “Operation Hyphen,” raids were carried out throughout Dublin by about 200 gardai on July 16 and that resulted in 46 people being arrested. Phase II of the operation went nationwide on July 23 when 300 gardai raided premises throughout the country. More than 80 people were detained.
The first report of the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner revealed that in the 14 months to last December, the office recommended 467 people be given refugee status. Applications from another 6,631 people were turned down.
Of those recommended for refusal, the Commissioner described 600 as “manifestly unfounded” and said almost 2,000 were refused because the applicant failed to turn up for a second interview.
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In the first six months of this year, 437 were recommended for refugee status and 4,238 were turned down.
The government established the independent office with 300 staff to consider applications and make recommendations to Justice Minister Michael McDowell.
It has been dealing with a huge backlog of claims and has now reached the stage were applications are being processed within four to five months.
The reports shows that three countries, Nigeria 3,461 (33.5 percent), Romania 1,348 (13.1 percent) and Moldova 549 (5.3 percent) made up half of the asylum seekers that arrived last year.
Launching the report, McDowell said Ireland is experiencing a growing misuse of its refugee procedures by illegal immigrants and he pledged to protect the system’s integrity.
People were seeking asylum with “the sole purpose of evading legitimate immigration controls in order to gain a foothold in the State for economic purposes.
“This has meant that our asylum process, the principal purpose of which should be to help the genuine refugee, must cope with large numbers of claims which are in effect unfounded and which are tying up large amounts of resources,” McDowell said.
About euro 200 million was spent on asylum seekers last year. Because of the financial burden, the minister said every effort must be made to ensure that abuses by non-genuine applications are dealt with as effectively and promptly as possible.
This included fast-track procedures for “manifestly unfounded applications.”