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Most Dublin Airport asylum applicants arrived without a passport

Almost 70% of people who applied for international protection at Dublin Airport in 2023 arrived without a correct identity document, figures supplied by the Department of Justice to Prime Time show.

Just over one-third of all asylum applications in Ireland last year were made at the capital’s airport.

The figures do not include those fleeing the war in Ukraine, who are permitted to stay in Ireland without having to go through the asylum process.

In total, 3,285 people arrived to Dublin Airport without a valid identity document, representing 69.75% of all asylum applications made at the airport.

“It is almost exclusively the case that those who present without documentation claim asylum,” a spokesperson for the Department of Justice told Prime Time.

The overall number of people arriving without documentation is down by around one-third from 4,968 people in 2022.

The Department spokesperson said its officials “continue to actively engage with airport authorities and airlines at a senior level to underscore the importance of passengers possessing correct documentation” and that its “Border Management Unit officials are available 24/7 to assist airlines with queries they have in relation to immigration matters.”

The Department also said that the Garda National Immigration Bureau issued airlines with €1,476,000 in so-called “carrier liability” fines in the first 11 months of 2023, an increase of one-third on the €1,102,500 of fines issued for all of 2022. Such penalties are issued when an airline carries a passenger whose travel documentation is not in order.

While it should be impossible to get on an international flight without a valid identity document, would-be asylum applicants may board an aircraft using a “borrowed” or false passport which they may destroy or return to their agent or trafficker during the flight.

The Irish Refugee Council also points out on its website that “some people may fear if they produce” a passport on arrival that “they will be immediately removed back to the country of origin or the country from which they have travelled from.”

While travelling on a false passport or destroying it are offences under the Passport Act, travelling on false documents does not mean that any subsequent application for international protection is not genuine. A person fleeing political persecution or a war-torn country, for example, may not be able to procure a passport from state authorities, or the state may no longer be functioning.

Also, a visa to visit Ireland would not be granted if the purpose were to seek asylum.

In accordance with Section 13 of the International Protection Act 2015, a person who arrives to Ireland and states that they have a well-grounded fear of persecution or serious harm in their home country may apply for asylum.

Ireland’s legal obligation to process asylum applications includes those made by people who arrive with no passport, however, applicants will have to provide valid identity documents at some stage of the application process.

A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said that when a person presents to one of its immigration officers and claims international protection, “the process for the member of An Garda Síochána is limited to Section 13” of the International Protection Act, 2015. “Whether the person is in possession of documents or not is not a consideration at that time.”

All applicants are then referred to the International Protection Office, the spokesperson said. “In formally identifying a person claiming International Protection, An Garda Síochána assists the International Protection Office with obtaining the applicants’ fingerprints, utilising an International Automated Fingerprint system.” Applicants’ photographs are also taken for biometric purposes.

The fingerprints are cross-checked with a database of those who have applied for asylum in any other EU country.

Any application may be refused if an applicant has been convicted of a serious crime or if they are believed to be a danger to the community.

Speaking on RTÉ radio on Thursday, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the speed with which applications for international protection are processed has been increased.

“We’ve come from a situation where some of the longest decisions were taking seven or eight years, it’s down to a year”, she told Morning Ireland.

“We went from 300 decisions a month. We’re now processing over 1,000. We’ve doubled our capacity within the International Protection Office,” she said.

Total asylum applications in Ireland last year dropped by 3% compared to 2022, to 13,277.

In 2023, the top five countries from which people applying for international protection said they came were Nigeria (with 15.7% of applicants) followed by Algeria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Georgia.

In 2022, Georgia topped the list – with almost 20% of all applicants – but applications from the former Soviet state plunged by around 60% in 2023. Georgia is designated as a “safe country” which means, according to the IPO, that “there is generally and consistently no persecution” as defined by an EU Directive.

Minister McEntee told Morning Ireland that applicants from countries designated as safe are processed relatively quickly. “It’s been made clear that these are people who really should not be seeking asylum. At the same time, everybody has to be given that chance, but they are being processed in less than three months,” she said, adding that “the vast majority of those” have received “a negative decision.”

The minister also said that in the case of “non-safe countries” a decision takes “about a year.”

The Department of Justice is responsible for border control at Dublin Airport, while An Garda Síochána is responsible for controls at other airports and seaports. An Garda Síochána told Prime Time that it is unable to provide figures on the numbers of asylum applicants who arrive without correct documents to the ports under its purview because “…the data as requested is not recorded by An Garda Síochána in a format which facilitates retrieval and the time required to carry out the research is not practicable.”

In 2023, total passenger traffic into Dublin Airport was 16.6 million. Those arriving without correct documentation accounted for around one in 5,000 of those passengers.

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