Tuesday, 7 March 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
264. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of refugees and asylum seekers awaiting process of their claims on 1 January 1995, 1 January 1997 and at the latest date in respect of which these figures are available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7041/00]
265. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the average length of time taken to assess the application of a refugee and asylum seeker; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7042/00]
Records are not maintained in such a way to enable me to provide the information requested by the Deputy in respect of the number of asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their applications for refugee status on 1 January 1995 and 1 January 1997. However, the number of applications in each of the years from 1994 to 2000 (29/2) were as follows:
When I took office there were about 2,700 applications in the system, many of which were outstanding for three years without any consideration of the application. At 29 February 2000 there were 10,810 applications at various stages of processing in the system.
All applicants who lodged a claim for asylum up to the end of March-April 1999 have at this time been afforded the opportunity of a substantive interview with some minor exceptions. In view of the progress to date on backlog processing, the recent advice from the Attorney General with regard to the better use of accelerated procedures and the increase in numbers since the second half of 1999, arrangements have now been put in place whereby 75% of those scheduled for interview will be persons who arrived one/two months previously and 25% will be scheduled from the backlog. All decisions at first instance are notified to applicants within three months following interview.
Arrangements are now in place to enable greater use to be made of accelerated procedures to deal with cases speedily which are manifestly well founded and manifestly unfounded. Manifestly well-founded cases will be identified at an early stage to ensure that a person who is likely to succeed in the asylum process gets the benefit  of refugee status as soon as possible. Manifestly unfounded procedures will help to eliminate at an early stage applications which appear to have little or no relevance to the definition of a refugee in section 2 of the Refugee Act, 1996, as amended. Applicants refused as manifestly unfounded have the opportunity to appeal to the independent appeal authorities with legal assistance for that purpose. All manifestly unfounded refusals are notified to the UNHCR which is entitled to submit comments to the appeal authority in each case. Staff have completed workshops on the application of accelerated procedures.
The current average period for an individual determination of an asylum claim averages from four to 12 months. The waiting time at appeal ranges from less than three months for manifestly unfounded cases, which are considered on the papers submitted, up to 12 months for appeal hearings.
There are now six independent appeals authorities appointed to consider appeals. I am making arrangements to appoint further appeals authorities to create a wider panel to deal with the increasing number of appeals.
The aim of my Department is to minimise the time taken from date of application to completion of the procedure in a refugee determination process which meets the highest EU and international standards. With this in mind on foot of the Government decision of 3 November 1999, on 25 November 1999 the Department of Finance approved the appointment of 42 additional staff to the Refugee Applications Centre. The recruitment process is well in train and the 21 staff appointed to date are currently undergoing appropriate training. The bulk of the 42 staff will be assigned to interviewing applicants at first stage and the remainder will be allocated to processing appeal of refusals at first instance. It is envisaged that the remaining staff will be in place by end of April 2000.
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