United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Ireland, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8be30.html [accessed 23 May 2013]
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At the end of 1997, Ireland hosted more than 4,300 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included applicants in 4,075 pending asylum cases, 20 Bosnians with temporary protection, and persons granted asylum in 208 cases during the year. Ireland received 3,883 applications for asylum during the year, more than twice the 1,179 applications it received in 1996. Detailed data on the number of applications by country was not available, but the majority of applicants were from Romania, Congo/Zaire, Nigeria, Algeria, and Somalia. In conjunction with implementing the Dublin Convention on September 1, 1997, Ireland enacted sections of its 1996 Refugee Act, including a provision giving asylum seekers the right to appeal negative decisions. However, at year's end, Ireland still had not implemented other provisions of the act, drawing criticism from refugee advocacy groups and the Irish media. The number of applications for asylum in Ireland has increased dramatically in the last five years, and the Irish Department of Justice has had difficulty keeping up with the increase. The processing time for first-instance decisions is up to three years, and more than 4,000 applications remained undecided at the end of 1997, compared with 757 at the end of 1996. In 1997, the government decided 516 asylum applications, almost double the 260 decisions made in 1996. Ireland granted refugee status in 212 cases, a 41 percent recognition rate, humanitarian permission to remain in 120 cases, and rejected 184 cases. In August, the minister of justice announced that 72 additional staff would be appointed to speed up the processing of asylum applications. A new processing center was scheduled to be built in 1998. Throughout the year, there were reports that the increase in asylum seekers in Ireland was triggering a xenophobic reaction from certain sectors of the Irish public, particularly in urban areas where asylum seekers outnumbered homeless Irish in temporary accommodation. On June 28, in response to the dramatic increase in asylum applications, the minister of justice introduced emergency legislation called the Aliens Exclusion Order. The legislation stipulated that non-EU nationals arriving from the United Kingdom must fulfill the same entry requirements as non-EU nationals arriving in Ireland from other parts of the world. The Irish Times criticized the authorities for introducing the aliens order without consulting UNHCR or the Irish Refugee Council. Asylum Procedure Although Ireland acceded to the UN Refugee Convention in 1956, it did not incorporate a formal legal procedure into Irish law until the publication of the 1996 Refugee Act. Prior to this, Ireland's Department of Justice developed administrative procedures in consultation with UNHCR, which were implemented on an ad hoc basis. Immigration officers interview asylum seekers who arrive at Shannon Airport in western Ireland's County Clare. 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. The Irish Red Cross helps asylum seekers 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 live 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. Ireland granted 120 people HPR status in 1997.