Seeking Asylum in Ireland

Analysing official figures on those who seek refugee status in Ireland, the RTÉ Investigations Unit has tried to build a clear picture of the people who seek asylum in this country and their chances of being allowed to stay.

The subject of endless misconceptions, the data reveals the reality of asylum seeking in Ireland, an issue that scarcely existed before 1990 and which has not been on the scale that many people believe.

These detailed figures examine who has been coming to Ireland, their age and gender, their chances of success in gaining refugee status, the countries they have come from and the counties where they have ended up.

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Year by Year

1991 Number of applications 2014

In 1991, a total of nine asylum applications were recorded in the Republic of Ireland. Five years later, the total number rose above 1,000 for the first time and by 1997, the number of applicants had climbed to 3,883.

The numbers reached their peak in 2002, when 11,634 people applied for asylum. The controversial direct provision system in place today was born out of Ireland’s difficulties in handling the numbers that came during those years around the turn of the millennium.

In early 2003, a Supreme Court judgment ruled that the parents of children born in Ireland did not have an automatic ‘right to remain’ and could be deported back to their own countries. Then in 2004, a referendum changed the law to end the automatic right to citizenship for Irish-born children.

Asylum numbers dropped every year between 2004 and 2013 with the speed of decline increasing during the recession. It was only in 2014 that the downward trend began to reverse when 1,448 applications for asylum were made.

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Month by Month

Jan 2013 Number of applications Jul 2015

If 2013 represented the modern low for asylum applications, there is clear evidence that the number of people seeking refuge in Ireland is on the rise.

March of 2013 saw just 65 applications, the lowest monthly figure in more than fifteen years.

In May 2014, the number climbed to 106, and has remained above 100 in every month since.

January of this year saw the numbers rise above 200 applications and a significant peak was seen in June when 334 sought asylum.

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Total & Gender & Age




In the twenty three years for which the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner generally publishes figures, there have been almost 90,000 applications for asylum.

There is a clear divide in applications according to gender, with 59% of asylum applications coming from men and 41% from women.

Of the applications made, 20,654 were from people aged under eighteen, working out at just over 23% of the total.

Unaccompanied Minors

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Unaccompanied minors are child asylum seekers who arrived without any parent or guardian, fending for themselves as they came to Ireland.

From 2000 to the end of 2014, there were a total of 2,235 applications from people under eighteen who were on their own with figures hitting a peak in 2003.

The figures fell in line with general trends but also in part because of concerns that not all of the unaccompanied minors were the age that they said. A range of age verification measures including bone density testing were introduced for asylum seekers by authorities, where it was suspected that applicants were older than they had stated.

Success rate

Figures published by the Reception and Integration Agency give an idea of the likelihood of an asylum seeker being successful with their original application.

The chances of a successful application have been rising in recent years but from an incredibly low base – particularly 2010 when just over 1% of all claims were granted on first hearing.

By last year, that figure was up to 12.45% and it is difficult to explain how there could be such dramatic variations in success rates from year to year.

The number of asylum applications that ultimately prove successful is higher as alternative options including appeal and recourse to judicial review are open to all people.

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Length of Stay

The direct provision system – the network of former hotels, B&Bs and accommodation centres where asylum seekers are housed – was only ever intended as a short-term home while people’s applications were dealt with.

The reality has been quite different and 17% of the people living in direct provision centres at the end of 2014 were there in excess of seven years. More than half of the asylum seekers (54.7%) in the system have been housed in one of these ‘temporary’ accommodation centres for more than three years.

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The nationality of the 4,275 people living in direct provision at the end of 2014 gives a clear reflection of the countries of origin of asylum seekers over recent years.

Almost a quarter of those living in the accommodation centres are Nigerian, with the next largest groups from the Democratic Republic of Congo (8.4%), Pakistan (8.3%) and Zimbabwe (7.1%).

Another 1,401 asylum seekers (32.8%) were from other countries not listed by the Reception and Integration Agency.

The dominant nationalities of asylum seekers coming to Ireland has changed over the years as countries particularly Romania and the Baltic States joined the European Union and such applications then disappeared.

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Age profile

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No different to the age profile of migrants anywhere, the largest category of asylum seekers in Ireland are in the age bracket of 26 to 35.

According to figures from the Reception and Integration Agency, almost 60% of those living in the direct provision system at the end of 2014 were aged between 18 and 45.

There were also 502 children under five living in direct provision centres, while the statistics show that fourteen were older than 66.

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Per County

Occupancy at end of 2014

Ten Irish counties – Wicklow, Longford, Offaly, Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, and Roscommon – were not home to a single asylum seeker at the end of 2014.

But even in counties with ‘high’ numbers of would-be refugees, the actual numbers are still small.

Meath, because it is home to the Mosney direct provision centre, has the highest per capita rate of asylum seekers living there of anywhere in the country.

However, even at that, the 636 refugees living there represented just 1 in 300 people living in the county in 2014.

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Accepted per head of population

Even with increasing success rates for asylum seekers in Ireland, the numbers actually coming here still pale into insignificance when compared to other European Union countries.

According to Eurostat figures*, Sweden made 39,905 "first instance" decisions on asylum in 2014, of which 30,650 were accepted. That meant an acceptance rate of 317.8 asylum seekers for every 100,000 of its population

The same set of figures from Eurostat show that by comparison, Ireland accepted 8.7 people per 100,000 of our population.

Sweden’s acceptance rate was of course exceptionally high but of the 28 countries in the European Union, Ireland only came nineteenth in terms of how many people it agreed to take in.

The numbers actually claiming asylum in the first place are also low in Ireland. That is in no small part due to our distance from the frontiers which people commonly use to cross into the European Union.

* First instance decisions 2014, Source: Eurostat

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