Ireland: Liaison officers and readmission agreements to prepare for deportations

In mid-May Ireland signed its first readmission agreement with Romania, while readmission procedures have been initiated with Poland while negotiations for a 'repatriation' agreement with Nigeria are under way. Civil rights groups have expressed concern about the rights of refugees and migrants because the agreements will mean the stationing of Nigerian and Romanian liaison officers in Ireland "to help gardaí combat trafficking in illegals and overcome the deportation obstacles". The Irish Minister for Justice, John O'Donoghue, has also announced plans to introduce a special immigration police unit the Gardaí National Immigration Bureau which will have liaison officers based in Paris and London and have powers to arrest and detain deportees.

Ireland's Department of Justice, which in the past was legally restricted in its deportation practices (see Statewatch vol 10 no 1), now seems determined to fast-track the deportation of rejected refugees along the lines its EU partners are adopting.

The choice of Nigeria, Romania and Poland for readmission agreements and Paris and London for the stationing of liaison officers is determined by migrants' and refugees' flight routes and countries of origin: around 60-70% of the 15,400 asylum applicants resident in Ireland today are said to be either Roma or Nigerian and most of them enter the country via Britain or France. Ireland seems to be following other EU states in denying asylum to Roma refugees arriving from Eastern Europe (in this case Romania and Poland). There has been a similar practice of denying asylum to Nigerian refugees, particularly since President Olusegun Obesanjo's government took over last year - despite continuing sectarian violence in the North leaving a death toll of over 2,000 this year alone.

The readmission agreement with Romania signed by John O'Donoghue and Romanian Interior Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu in Bucharest on 12 May, will allow the fast-track deportation of around 5,000 Romanian rejected asylum seekers within the next year, as soon as legislation has been passed through the Dáil (see Statewatch vol 10 no 1). In 1997, at a news conference during the presidential visit of Jacques Chirac, Ionescu said he was determined to repatriate all 'illegal' Romanian immigrants resident in France. But then, as now, the majority of these 'illegals' are Roma. Romanian Roma rights activist Nicolae Gheorge identifies the tendency amongst EU governments to back "Romanian hopes of integrating into Western structures, [but they are] much more reserved on the prospects of dropping [visa] requirements" for Romanians. In the case of Poland the readmission negotiations were helped by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern promising Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek "not to introduce visa requirements for Polish visitors to the Republic as a means of discouraging asylum-seekers" as well as issuing more work permits for Polish citizens in Ireland. Around 600 Polish citizens applied for political asylum in Ireland last year.

The Irish-Nigerian readmission agreement, just like Article 13 in Lomé Convention, will not only allow for the deportation of Nigerian citizens illegally resident in Ireland but also of third country nationals who are said to have entered Ireland via Nigeria. It is not known if the Eastern European agreements will include the readmission of third country nationals as well. The positioning of liaison officers in Britain and France however will facilitate the 'chain deportation' from Ireland to other European countries.

Alongside the barriers to asylum and immigration into Ireland Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney plans to introduce measures to encourage immigration by "skilled workers and professionals outside the European Economic Area".

Sources: RNC Agency 22.2.97, 5.8.97; Irish Times 11.5.2000, 25.5.00, 26.5.00; Agence France Press 11.5.00, 22.6.00; Irish Independent 19.5.00; Reuters 4.4.00