“A Glass Wall of Exclusion” excludes asylum seekers

18 Jun 2001

A Glass Wall of Exclusion: Bishops’ Committee criticises proposed introduction of carrier sanctions as part of State’s Asylum Exclusion Policies

18 June 2001

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

The State is accused of creating a “glass wall of exclusion” around its frontiers, in a statement issued today by the Committee on Asylum Seekers and Refugees of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

Growing Contradictions Within Irish and EU State Structures

The 14-page document, entitled NO ENTRY: Carrier Sanctions and the Pre-Emptive Exclusion of Asylum Seekers, is issued on the eve of  World Refugee Day. It points out that “intense contradictions are  growing deep in the internal structures of individual [EU] states, arising from the irreconcilable tension between the desire to limit the inward movement of people and the growing thirst for immigrant labour to sustain our economies”. States’ rights to regulate their frontiers are in growing tension with the internationally recognised right of asylum. At Irish and EU levels this essential right is coming under threat from policies designed to restrict so-called “irregular” migration in general. “Such a threat is becoming
painfully obvious in certain of the policies now being put in place to police our frontiers” the Bishops’ Committee says.

Projecting our power to exclude beyond our frontiers:The State’s power to exclude irregular migrants is being increasingly projected beyond those frontiers. This effectively prevents many asylum seekers from applying for asylum in Ireland. The policy operates by stationing Irish immigration officials in an “advisory” capacity at foreign embarkation points and on ships and planes travelling to Ireland, and by the threatened introduction of legal penalties on carriers which bring in inadequately documented passengers.

Conflict at heart of State’s asylum policy.
There is now a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the State’s asylum policy, says the document. The State argues that under the Dublin Convention most asylum seekers arriving here should have applied in the first EU state they entered, and consequently that they can legitimately be sent back to the EU state in question, or, better still, prevented from reaching here in the first place through the policy of pre-emptive exclusion. However, wearing another hat, the State, in the guise of the Irish authorities responsible for determining asylum applications, insists that the primary matter to be considered is the applicant’s need for protection, not what States he or she may have entered before reaching Ireland.

Why Sanctions On Carriers Should Not Be Introduced

The Government proposes to introduce legal sanctions on companies carrying inadequately documented passengers to Ireland. Such sanctions would have far-reaching human rights implications and should not be introduced, says the Bishops’ Committee.

1. The risk of incurring substantial penalties (a fine of £2,500 per person is talked about) would force carrier officials to impose an excessively severe standard of exclusion. Thus sanctions “would compel carrier staff into becoming proxy immigration officials who would have the power in practice but without any appropriate legislative basis, to make what are in effect negative, including asylum-type, decisions”.

2. Sanctions would shift de facto responsibility for immigration control from the State to private agents i.e. the air and ferry companies which carry people to Ireland.

3. Sanctions strike directly at asylum seekers since these are often unable to obtain from their own government the documentation needed to enter another country lawfully.

4. The State would not be examining the applications of those asylum seekers refused embarkation by carrier officials acting under the threat of State-imposed sanctions.

5. Unless the offence of carrying inadequately documented passengers can be defined with adequate clarity, sanctions legislation could be open to judicial challenge.

6. The effect of sanctions on the ground would negate at a stroke the protective and procedural edifice accepted as necessary by the Irish State to guarantee the legal and procedural rights of those asylum seekers who succeed in lodging an application in Ireland.

Fostering criminal networks: The Bishops’ Committee points out that by further closing off the possibility of openly entering the country, carrier sanctions will almost certainly foster the growth of more clandestine and criminal networks. Carrier sanctions could in this way be a much more costly measure than appears at first sight.

Bishops Renew Call for Regularisation

The Committee recalls that in its statement of April 2000 it had already urged that regularising the position of asylum seekers now in the State would be a proper and necessary response to the humanitarian needs of those who have been in the country for an extended period. “By eliminating the backlog of unprocessed asylum seekers regularisation would enable the government’s target of processing applications withing six months to be achieved in a very short time, if not immediately. We accepted that the possibility of deportation is an unavoidable part of the determination procedure. The guarantee of fair, transparent and rapid processing of applications, followed by deportation if an application was refused, would be a more effective deterrent to unfounded applications than resorting to questionable exclusion practices. Nearly a year later, when the backlog of applications has risen from 11,400 to almost 13,400, the logic of regularisation is even more compelling”, the bishops point out.

The Bishops conclude by stating that our national sense of solidarity and our practical respect for human rights, which includes the right to seek asylum, will be increasingly tested by the policies chosen to underpin the policing of our frontiers and those of the EU as a whole. “Pre-emptive exclusion, under the threat of carrier sanctions, is an integral component of the European wall of exclusion now being built in our name. There are major issues of faith and morality here for our Christian community”.


Information for Editors:

The members of the Bishops’ Committee on Asylum Seekers and Refugees are:

Bishop Fiachra O’Ceallaigh (Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin), Chairperson;
Bishop Ray Field (Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin), President, Irish Commission for Justice and Peace;
Bishop Christy Jones (Bishop of Elphin), President, Council for Social Welfare;
Bishop John Kirby (Bishop of Clonfert), Chairperson, Trocaire.

Further Information:
Sr. Joan Roddy or Jerome Connolly,
Refugee Project/Irish Commission for Justice and Peace
Tel: (01) 2884713 or (01) 2883866.

Copies of the complete document can be obtained free on request from the above at 169 Booterstown Avenue, Blackrock, Co. Dublin.