News archive 2003

Irish EU Presidency should enshrine rights of Asylum Seekers and Migrants at a European Level – bishops

PRESS RELEASE

Strictly embargoed until 12.00 midnight on Sunday 14 December 2003

IRISH EU PRESIDENCY SHOULD ENSHRINE RIGHTS OF ASYLUM SEEKERS AND MIGRANTS AT A EUROPEAN LEVEL – BISHOPS

Issued by the Catholic Communications Office on behalf of Committee of the Irish Bishops’ Conference on Asylum Seekers and Refugees

 

In the run up to Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union, the Committee of the
Irish Bishops’ Conference (IBC) on Asylum Seekers and Refugees has issued a statement
calling on Government to expedite EU asylum and migration legislation, in order to
put in place the highest standard of policies and procedures for migrants and asylum
applicants.

According to Sister Joan Roddy, spokesperson for the IBC’s Committee on Asylum Seekers
and Refugees, “Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union bestows a unique opportunity
on Government to lead Member States in agreeing on a tangible and just Europe-wide
policy regarding asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants. Currently there is
no common EU policy regarding asylum and immigration and in many cases this has led
to an erosion of human rights and chaos for all concerned.

“This legislation, if enacted, would harmonise migration policies and procedures,
protecting the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants across the
European Union, which will grow from 15 to 25 member States on May 1st, 2004.”

During its Presidency of the EU, the Bishops appeal to Government:

* to ensure that the harmonization of key legislation in relation to asylum
and immigration, to be finalised during Ireland’s Presidency, upholds the highest
human rights standards and is in accord with all international obligations under
UN Conventions. (Tight EU deadlines cannot justify the elimination from legislation
of provisions that are essential to the protection of the rights of asylum seekers,
refugees and migrants)

* to regularize the situation of some 10,500 non-EEA* parents of Irish citizen children
who, when they made their application, had a legitimate expectation of being granted
residency
* to uphold the right of all those who wish to seek asylum in Ireland to enter the
country and to have their asylum application processed, with clear accountability
and transparency at every stage of the process, from arrival at our shores onward
* to grant leave to remain on humanitarian and other grounds to persons who may not
qualify for refugee recognition but who nevertheless are clearly in need of protection.
Many asylum applicants come from countries currently at war
* to put in place a comprehensive, fair, transparent and sustainable immigration
policy to facilitate those wishing to immigrate to Ireland and their families
* to take a lead by being the first member state of the EU to sign the UN Convention
for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
;

Noting that Christmas is the family feast par excellence, the Bishops conclude by recalling
how God’s Son was born in poor surroundings, away from home; how, with Mary and Joseph,
Jesus was forced to flee for his life; how this refugee family needed shelter until it
was safe to return to their own country.

Ends

14 December 2003


Further information:

· Director of Refugee Project of the IBC
Sr Joan Roddy (01) 505 3157/(087) 126 7499
· Director of Communications Martin Long 086 1727 678
· Communications Officer Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797

Note to Editors:

The members of IBC’s Committee on Asylum Seekers and Refugees are:
Chairperson: Bishop Fiachra O Ceallaigh OFM, Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin,
Bishop Raymond Field, Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin,
Bishop Christopher Jones, Bishop of Elphin, and
Bishop John Kirby, Bishop of Clonfert

* EEA – European Economic Area which is the EU, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein.

 


The full text of the statement follows:

A Statement by the Committee on Asylum Seekers and Refugees
of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Maynooth, Co Kildare

Bishops Call on Government to
‘Give Leadership on Asylum and Migration during EU Presidency’

14 December 2003

Bishop Fiachra O Ceallaigh OFM, Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin (Chairperson of the Irish Bishops’ Refugee Project)
Bishop Raymond Field, Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin
Bishop Christopher Jones, Bishop of Elphin
Bishop John Kirby, Bishop of Clonfert

Irish Presidency of an expanding EU
On 1 January 2004 Ireland assumes the Presidency of the European Union. On 1 May 2004
the EU will be welcoming ten new states as members. Ireland’s privilege in holding the
Presidency at this historic moment is both an opportunity and a responsibility. As Ireland
did thirty years ago, these ten states will be joining what in world terms is a haven of
political stability and economic prosperity. Prosperity, however, has its obligations
as well as its advantages.

In a world with millions of people on the move, the twin factors of stability and prosperity
make the EU a magnet for asylum seekers and immigrants. A further, powerful, contributing
factor is the growing need of the EU for the workers which its member countries are unable
to provide. In the existing EU states, including Ireland, fewer children are being born
and the population is growing older.

Labour Migration
In recent years the Irish State has been giving permits annually for over 40,000 people
from outside the EU to come and work here. Such permits are granted because the input
of immigrants is needed to sustain our economic growth. Immigrants often accept work
for which Irish people are unavailable or which they are unwilling to undertake. Without
the contribution of these immigrants, we would be poorer not just economically, but also
socially, spiritually, politically and culturally.

However, there is a difference between importing machines and taking in immigrants. Each
immigrant is a human being, and as such, is immediately entitled to respect for his or
her dignity and rights. Immigrants, even though not citizens, have rights – the right
not to be discriminated against, the right to a just wage, the right to family life,
the right to security of the person, and many others. Immigrants cannot be treated as
simply economic units. We in Ireland, with our emigration history are well-placed to
understand the importance of respecting the rights of migrant workers and their families.

Right to Asylum Inviolable
Independently of its labour needs, the EU has various responsibilities under international
law. Its individual members, including Ireland, have ratified the Geneva Convention on
Refugees and accepted the obligations which it imposes. These include accepting and
processing applications from people claiming to have a justifiable fear of persecution
on political and other grounds – in other words, asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers and economic immigrants are often mistakenly regarded as a single group
in the public mind. At times, politicians and the media contribute to this confusion.
It is possible that Ireland would need immigrant labour, even if there were no asylum
seekers arriving at our borders. Equally, even if immigrant labour were not needed, the
State is at all times duty-bound under international and national law to accept and
process requests for asylum.

Much depends however on how, in practice, the state interprets this right to asylum.
Under international law people are entitled in good faith to enter the country and
apply for asylum. The fact that their application may eventually be turned down
does not mean that they were not entitled to make it in the first place. Irish people
would object if, for example, all unsuccessful applications for social welfare benefits
were to be described as “bogus” simply on the grounds that they had not succeeded.
Despite this, we often see references to ‘bogus asylum seekers’ on much the same
grounds. It should be remembered that, as the UN High Commission for Refugees has
repeatedly emphasized, a person who does not possess adequate documentation can enter
the State, make a valid application for asylum and reside legally here while the
application is being processed.

It is true that a high percentage of asylum applications fail. While the great majority
of asylum applicants are seeking to escape from desperate situations, the grounds for
refugee recognition under the Geneva Convention are extremely restricted. The possibility
of giving leave to remain on humanitarian and other grounds is open to the State but is
an option which is little used in Ireland, in comparison with other countries. Because
Ireland, in common with many other EU states, has no comprehensive immigration legislation,
many would-be immigrants have no option but to use the asylum channel. But the fact that
some people may try to bend or defeat the asylum system is not justification for diluting
or abandoning the underlying principle.

Family Unity: Issue of Profound Concern
Here we come to a specific concern of the greatest urgency. Today in Ireland, in the
shadow of Christmas, a significant number – almost 10,500 – of non-EEA* parents of Irish
citizen children are in a limbo-like situation. Those are the people whose applications
for residency were pending when the criteria for granting residency were changed following
the Supreme Court judgment of January 2003. Many had made their residency application
a year and longer before that date. As well as that, others who had applied on similar
grounds and about the same time were granted residency. Those whose applications have
not been processed are now confronted by a stark choice. On the one hand, they can stay
together as a family, but only at the cost of foregoing the effective exercise of the
undeniable right of some of their members to citizenship. On the other hand, their
children’s right to citizenship can be exercised, but only at the cost of breaking
up the family. On the eve of Christmas, the family feast par excellence, we appeal
for administrative procedures and decisions which are just, humane and prompt. Such
an approach would be justified not only in the light of the Christian Gospel but also
of the Irish Constitution, and of our international commitments under the Convention
on the Rights of the Child.

Irish Presidency: Policy Imperatives
The Irish Presidency of the EU comes at a time when decisions have to be reached at an
Irish and European level on many humanitarian issues with far-reaching moral and political
consequences.

We therefore appeal to the Government during Ireland’s Presidency of the EU

*to ensure that the harmonization of key legislation in relation to asylum and
immigration, due to be finalised during Ireland’s EU Presidency, upholds the
highest human rights standards and is in accord with all international obligations
under UN Conventions. The existence of tight EU deadlines cannot justify the
elimination from legislation of provisions that are essential to the protection
of the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. Ireland has the opportunity
to lead its EU partners in making legislation of the highest standard its priority,
even if this entails revising existing deadlines.
*to regularize the situation of some 10,500 non-EEA* parents of Irish children who,
when they made their application, had a legitimate expectation of being granted
residency
*to uphold the right of all those who wish to seek asylum to enter the country and
to have their asylum application processed, and to guarantee accountability and
transparency at every stage of the process, from arrival at our shores onwards
*to grant leave to remain on humanitarian and other grounds to persons who may
not qualify for refugee recognition but who nevertheless are clearly in need of
protection. Many, for example, come from countries currently at war
*to put in place a comprehensive, fair, transparent and sustainable immigration
policy to facilitate those wishing to immigrate to Ireland and their families
*to take a lead by being the first member state of the EU to sign the UN Convention
for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

At the Heart of Christmas – the Refugee Family of God
At this Christmas time we remember how God’s only Son was born in poor surroundings, away
from home. We remember how, with Mary and Joseph, Jesus was forced to flee for his life.
We remember how this refugee family needed shelter until it was safe for them to return
to their own country. If we are to truly celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus in all
its details must touch our hearts. So too must the profound meaning of Christmas as the
sign of God’s love calling all of humankind into a single family, family of God, sisters
and brothers of Jesus, sisters and brothers of one another, sharing the one universe.

The Word was in the world…

And the world did not recognise him…

But to those who did accept him

He gave power to become children of God.

Jn. 1.10-12

ends

*EEA – European Economic Area which is the EU and Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein.

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