At the end of 1998, Ireland hosted more than 6,800 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included individuals in 6,699 pending cases, 21 rejected asylum seekers granted temporary protection, and 172 individuals granted refugee status during the year.

Ireland received 4,626 applications for asylum in 1998, a 20 percent increase from the 3,883 applications received in 1997. Detailed data on the number of applications by country were not available, but the majority of applicants reportedly came from Nigeria (37 percent), Romania (22 percent), Congo-Kinshasa (5 percent), Algeria (4 percent), and Libya (4 percent).

Ireland granted refugee status to 128 individuals during the year (first-instance decisions) and rejected 1,202 asylum applications, of which 104 were deemed "manifestly unfounded." Consequently, Ireland's asylum recognition rate dropped 70 percent, from 41 percent in 1997 to less than 12 percent in 1998. The number of individuals accorded Ireland's ad hoc status of "humanitarian permission to remain" (HPR) also dropped during the year. Ireland's Ministry of Justice granted 21 asylum seekers HPR in 1998, compared to 120 cases granted HPR in 1997.


Although Ireland acceded to the UN Refugee Convention in 1956, it did not pass a formal refugee law until 1996, when it enacted the Refugee Act.

At year's end, Ireland had not implemented several provisions of the Refugee Act, relying instead on ad hoc administrative procedures established before 1996. As the Ministry of Justice struggled to decide cases under the partially implemented Refugee Act, the asylum application backlog grew by more than 2,000 cases for the second year in a row. At year's end, more than 6,000 asylum applications were pending, forcing many asylum seekers to wait two to three years for first-instance decisions on their applications.

Under the procedures, asylum seekers arriving in Dublin apply for asylum at the Ministry of Justice, which examines their applications in consultation with UNHCR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Those arriving at Shannon Airport in western Ireland's County Clare apply directly with immigration officers at the airport. After completing an asylum questionnaire, applicants receive an identity card that is valid for three to six months.

While awaiting a decision on their claim, asylum seekers can live anywhere in Ireland, provided they 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. During that time – often two to three years – asylum seekers are not allowed to work. They are eligible for some social benefits, such as free health care, education up to the age of sixteen, subsidized housing, and limited financial assistance.

Several organizations, including the Irish Council of Trade Unions and the Irish National Organization of the Unemployed (INOU), campaigned during the year to encourage the government to allow asylum seekers the right to work. Such "bureaucratically enforced dependency," said the INOU, forces asylum seekers to rely on social welfare and engage in black market economy work and fuels "virulent racism in [Ireland's] cities." Though the campaign generated widespread support, Ireland's Ministry of Justice reiterated its intent to uphold the employment ban, which remained in effect at year's end.

Ireland implemented some provisions of the Refugee Act during the year, including a provision allowing asylum seekers to appeal negative decisions. By year's end, individuals in 44 cases had received refugee status after appeals under the new legislation. In March, Ireland added an appeals mechanism for applicants whose cases were deemed "manifestly unfounded." At year's end, four (of 45) individuals in "manifestly unfounded" cases had returned to the first-stage status determination process after appeals.

In October, Ireland opened a Refugee Applications Center designed to provide "one stop shopping" for asylum seekers in Dublin. The Center reportedly housed several asylum-related service providers, including asylum adjudicators, medical screening offices, appeals authorities, UNHCR personnel, and a research and documentation center. An independent "Refugee Legal Service," provided legal services and representation for asylum seekers at the Center.

Border Controls

Efforts to restrict access to the asylum procedure did little to stem the growing number of asylum applications in 1998.

In June 1997, the Ministry of Justice introduced the Aliens Exclusion Order, requiring all non-EU nationals arriving from the United Kingdom to fulfill the same entry requirements as non-EU nationals arriving in Ireland from other parts of the world. Strict border surveillance with the United Kingdom, however, did not reverse the growth in asylum applications. Between January and March, more than 1,357 individuals applied for asylum – double the number lodged during the same period in 1997.

Throughout 1998, the Ministry of Justice reportedly deported asylum seekers under the terms of the Dublin Convention – which Ireland signed in September 1997. In March, Ireland returned one Romanian to the United Kingdom, five Moldovans to France, and two Romanians to France. At year's end, Ireland had transferred 30 asylum applications to other Dublin Convention member countries, and had received roughly 55 transfer applications from other parties to the Convention.


This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.