Asylum seekers pouring into Ireland from UK, says minister

Helen McEntee, the justice minister, described the increase in migrants as a 'challenge'
Helen McEntee, the justice minister, described the increase in migrants as a 'challenge' - LIAM McBURNEY/PA WIRE

More than 80 per cent of asylum seekers in Ireland cross into the country from the UK, an Irish government minister has said.

Tensions over immigration have risen in Ireland amid an increase in migrant arrivals and an acute housing crisis that has forced some asylum seekers to sleep in tents.

Migrants and refugees were crossing the border with Northern Ireland, Helen McEntee, the justice minister, told an Irish Parliament scrutiny committee.

“This is the challenge that we have, that we have advocated for an open border on this island,” she said. “It is absolutely a challenge.”

As she gave evidence on Ireland’s decision to opt into new EU asylum rules that aim to speed up migrant returns, the minister added: “I would say it’s higher than 80 per cent.”

The UK and Ireland share a Common Travel Area, which predates both countries’ membership of the EU.

Infrastructure on the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland has gradually been dismantled since the Good Friday Agreement more than 25 years ago.

During the Brexit negotiations, Dublin insisted that the border on the island of Ireland be kept “invisible”, without infrastructure such as checkpoints. It argued this would protect the peace process and safeguard Ireland’s place in the EU’s Single Market. Brexiteers accused Dublin of “weaponising” the border.

The UK and EU eventually agreed to create an Irish Sea border for British goods and animals entering Northern Ireland to prevent a hard Irish border. Northern Ireland continues to follow hundreds of EU rules as part of the agreement, which enraged some Unionists.

The Irish Times reported a Department of Justice source as saying it was difficult to be exact about the numbers crossing into Ireland from Northern Ireland.

The source said more than 80 per cent of asylum claims were made at the International Protection Office in Dublin, without an application being first made at a port or airport.

The Irish Government believes that almost all those people have arrived from the UK. A significant number are thought to be Nigerians, and there has been a spike in asylum claims from Nigeria.

There is a returns agreement with the UK, which would allow Ireland to return migrants with refugee status in Britain.

Last month, Ireland’s High Court ruled that a decision by the Irish government to list the UK as a “safe country” to return asylum seekers to was unlawful. A judge found that Ms McEntee had exceeded her powers in designating the UK as a safe country after Brexit took legal effect.

She is now bringing forward legislation to remedy the deadlock, which comes amid controversy over the UK’s Rwanda plan. In 2022, the Irish government blamed the Rwanda plan for a surge in the numbers of migrants arriving in Ireland.

In October, Leo Varadkar, who was the prime minister at the time, warned that Ireland had reached the limit of support it could offer to refugees.

Dublin moved to tighten its rules after Mr Varadkar claimed Ireland made a “better offering” to migrants than countries such as the UK.

There were anti-immigration riots in Dublin in November, and asylum seeker centres in Ireland have been targeted with arson attacks.

Ireland, a country of about five million people that welcomed more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees after Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion.

Data released last year showed that there were 13,651 non-Ukranian applications for international protection in Ireland in 2022 – a 186 per cent increase from 2019, the last comparable year before the pandemic.