Protecting People of Concern
Ireland acceded to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in 1956 and 1968 respectively and has cooperated extensively with UNHCR especially since the mid-1990s when Ireland experienced an increase in asylum applications. UNHCR's supervisory role in relation to compliance with the 1951 Convention Relating to the status of Refugees is recognised in national legislation (the Refugee Act, 1996).The UNHCR Office in Ireland’s protection unit provides guidance on refugee and asylum law and policy to the Irish government, legal practitioners, non-governmental organisations and many others. They provide training programmes on a range of issues to those working with asylum-seekers and refugees.
The protection unit also handles individual cases in which asylum seekers, refugees and stateless people are in need of assistance, support and advice and in 2011 they handled almost 300 such cases.
The Office is occasionally involved in court proceedings, which may be precedent-setting for the international protection of refugees.
To promote durable solutions the protection staff provides assistance to the Irish Government's resettlement programme.
Where appropriate the UNHCR Office in Ireland highlights situations and raises issues of concern with our counterparts in the Irish Government.
What is statelessness?
A person is stateless when they have no effective nationality or citizenship. Statelessness affects an estimated 12 million people worldwide.Through a series of resolutions beginning in 1994, the UN General Assembly gave UNHCR the formal mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness around the world, as well as to protect the rights of stateless people. Twenty years earlier, the Assembly had asked UNHCR to provide assistance to individuals under the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
UNHCR has welcomed the inclusion of stateless persons along with refugees in Section 16 (g) of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (as amended) giving the Minister for Justice and Equality, the discretion to waive naturalisation requirements otherwise in place.
UNHCR has noted that, in Ireland there is currently no discrete procedure in which a stateless person can have their status considered. The absence of identification impacts on a stateless persons’ ability to get, for instance, travel documents, and to make representations to the Minister to waive the naturalisation requirements as specified in Section 16 (g) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (as amended).
UNHCR is currently working with the irish authorities to see how statelessness identification procedures might be introduced in Ireland.
While not all victims of trafficking are refugees, in their flight, refugees are frequently forced to rely on smugglers or traffickers. Often this process leaves people fearful of repercussions from their smugglers or traffickers and thus in need of protection. Other victims of trafficking may become refugees because they are unable to return to their countries of origin for fear of being stigmatised as a result of possible sexual exploitation at the hands of traffickers, or may risk being re-trafficked, and thus are in need of protection.
Non-refoulement, i.e. ensuring that no one is returned to a place where persecution may occur, as well as ensuring that every person of concern has access to the asylum authorities and legal advice is key to victim protection.
In Ireland, UNHCR works closely with the Government’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit and NGOs such as Ruhama and IOM, to raise awareness of the issue and facilitate cooperation among all the relevant groups to ensure that victims have access to both protection and support.
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The single procedure will be carried out by one authority. It will allow those taking decisions to look at all the facts of a case on which one's application for asylum will be assessed in a sequence starting with the 1951 Geneva Convention first, followed by other international treaty obligations and thirdly by considerations on humanitarian or other compassionate grounds. The implementation of a single consolidated procedure will end existing parallel procedures and is expected by all to enhance the quality of decisions and speed up the process of decision making.
UNHCR is supporting the efforts of the asylum authorities to prepare for these changes in the Irish asylum system.