United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Ireland, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8b710.html [accessed 4 May 2015]
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Ireland received almost 1,200 applications for asylum during the year, representing a threefold increase in applications from 1995. More than 25 percent of the applications were from Romanians. The next largest groups of applicants included Somalis (11 percent) and Zairians (9 percent). The Irish government approved a new refugee law, the Refugee Act, on June 23, 1996, but it was not yet in force at year's end. The act provides for a refugee commission, an appeals board, and criteria for evaluating refugee applications. Applications for asylum in Ireland have increased dramatically during the last four years. As recently as 1993, Ireland received only 91 applications. The Irish Department of Justice has experienced difficulties keeping up with the increase of applications. More than 1,000 applications remained undecided at the end of 1996. The average processing time for a first-instance decision is at least three years. One person who was recognized as a refugee in January 1996 had waited more than six years for a decision. In 1996, the government made 65 decisions on asylum applications, granting refugee status in 33 cases, humanitarian leave in 6, and rejections in 26. Asylum Procedure In June 1996, the Department of Justice issued guidelines on the procedures for the reception of asylum applicants envisioned in the 1995 Refugee Bill, laying out the responsibilities of various Irish government departments in facilitating assistance for asylum seekers. Asylum seekers who arrive at Shannon Airport in western Ireland's County Clare are interviewed by an immigration officer. Asylum seekers arriving in Dublin apply for asylum at the Department of Justice, which, in consultation with UNHCR and the Department of Foreign Affairs, is responsible for examining all asylum applications. Once they have completed an asylum questionnaire, applicants receive an identity card that is valid for three to six months. Due to the increase in the number of applicants, asylum seekers have to wait for up to six months for an interview with the Department of Justice. The Irish Red Cross is responsible for helping asylum seekers to find hostel accommodation. Asylum seekers are free to live anywhere in Ireland, but they must sign in weekly at the Aliens Registration Office if they reside in the Dublin area, or at a police station if they live outside the Dublin area. While waiting for a decision on their application, asylum seekers are not allowed to work, but have access to a full range of social benefits and financial support, including free health care, education up to the age of sixteen, and housing benefits. In the past few years, the minister of justice has accorded an ad-hoc status of "humanitarian permission to remain" (HPR) to asylum seekers who do not qualify for refugee status. Six people were granted HPR status in 1996. Ireland has two resettlement programs for "quota" refugees: a Bosnian program that has accorded temporary protection to more than 600 Bosnians in the past four years; and a Vietnamese program, through which 140 Vietnamese have arrived since January 1991. Resettled refugees have the right to apply for naturalization three years after arrival in Ireland. During the first six months of 1996, 118 Bosnians arrived under the program, and 61 Bosnians voluntarily repatriated.