The right to apply for asylum, as previously contained in section 8 of the Refugee Act 1996, is now contained in section 15 of the International Protection Act 2015 (IPA). When a person presents themselves at the frontiers of the State seeking international protection, he or she shall go through a preliminary interview at a time specified by an immigration officer or an international protection officer. That time limit is not, however, specified in the IPA.
Up until January 2017, the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) has been the body responsible for registering asylum applications and making the first instance decision. With the introduction of the IPA, ORAC has been replaced by the International Protection Office (IPO), which carries out asylum registration and decision making duties under the umbrella of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service in the Department of Justice and Equality.
With the commencement of the IPA, the IPO’s remit is extended to making recommendations on an applicant’s eligibility for refugee status, subsidiary protection and permission to remain under a single procedure. This system replaces the previous multi-layered process overseen by ORAC that was fraught with administrative delays and backlogs.
In the case of families applying for international protection, all adult family members must make their own applications. An adult who applies for protection is deemed to be applying on behalf of his or her dependent children where the child is not an Irish citizen and is under the age of 18 years and present in the State, or is born in the State while the person is in the protection procedure or not having attained the age of 18 years, enters the State while the parent is still in the protection procedure. There is no separate right for accompanied children to apply for asylum independently even if they have different protection grounds to their parents.
Immigration officers at the border have the right to conduct a preliminary interview with the applicant but then the person’s case is transferred to the IPO under section 13 IPA. According to the most up to date available figures from the ORAC Annual Report 2015, there were 300 applications lodged at airports in that year, accounting for 9.2% of the overall applications submitted in 2015.1 It is also worth noting that the ORAC annual reports refer to a third category of applications lodged in “other” locations in addition to those lodged at airports and at ORAC itself. It is not clear where exactly these other locations are, whether they are in places of detention or at other ports of entry, such as where people may arrive by sea. The latest ORAC annual report states that a total of 88 applications were made at “other” locations in 2015.
Following the case referral to the IPO, the applicant makes a formal declaration he or she wishes to apply for international protection, outlined under Section 13 IPA. The applicant is interviewed by an authorised officer of the IPO to establish basic information, which is inserted into a form entitled ‘IPF1’. This preliminary interview takes place in a room (where other people are waiting and being interviewed) and is conducted by an official who sits behind a screen. If necessary, an interpreter may be made available if this is possible. Practice on the implementation of this procedure is not known at the moment, but there is no provision in IPA requiring the interview to be carried out in the IPO premises. Accordingly, it could be contemplated that the preliminary interview would possible be held also at ports of entry and airports.
The short initial interview seeks to establish the applicant’s identity; country of origin; nationality, details of the journey taken to Ireland, including countries passed through in which there was an opportunity to claim asylum and any assistance obtained over the journey and the details of any person who assisted the person in travelling to the State; the method and route of entry into the state (legally or otherwise); brief details of why the applicant wishes to claim asylum, their preferred language and whether the application could be deemed inadmissible under section 21 IPA. This interview usually takes place on the day that the person attends the IPO. If the person is detained, the interview may take place in prison.
The applicant is required to be photographed and fingerprinted. If the applicant refuses to be fingerprinted, he or she may be deemed not to have made reasonable effort to establish his or her true identity and to have failed to cooperate.
The information taken at the screening interview enables the IPO to ascertain if the person applying for asylum has submitted an application for asylum in, or travelled through, another EU country by making enquiries through Eurodac which will assist in determining if the Dublin III Regulation is applicable or not.
Application for International Protection Questionnaire
At the end of the preliminary interview the applicant is given detailed information on the asylum process. This information is available in 18 languages.2 The applicant is given a long questionnaire, the Application for International Protection Questionnaire (IPO 2), which must be completed and returned within 20 working days. If necessary, during this transitional phase to the single procedure, to access legal support, applicants can submit the completed questionnaire beyond the 20 working days. As part of the new consolidated asylum process under the IPA, all of the details relevant to a claim for international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection and permission to remain), including details relevant to the right to enter and reside for family members, are compiled within this single, detailed questionnaire. In the previous system, applicants would have made separate applications for refugee status, subsidiary protection and leave to remain respectively, and all details related to family reunification would be collected in an application subsequent to being granted refugee or subsidiary protection status. As such, the questionnaire plays a crucial role in the status determination process and section 1 of the introductory preamble to the questionnaire recommends that the applicant “seek legal advice” to assist with completing the questionnaire.3 Contact details for the Legal Aid Board, who assist applicants for international protection, and other relevant statutory bodies and international organisations are included in an annex to the Information Booklet for Applicants for International Protection, which applicants receive at the same time as the questionnaire. The questionnaire usually has to be completed and returned to the IPO within 20 working days, although the IPO has clarified that this is an administrative deadline and that flexibility may be given to applicants requiring more time.4 At the same time as receiving the Questionnaire the applicant is also notified of the date of their substantive interview, which is usually 10 working days after the date on which the questionnaire should be returned. If the questionnaire is not in English it is submitted for translation.
The questionnaire itself is much more in depth than previous iterations issued by ORAC and requires information that bears relevance across every stage of the protection process. The rationale behind this is that all information relevant to assessing numerous grounds for international protection will be captured at the first instance, with the intention of reducing the duration of the process overall.
The questionnaire is now divided into 13 parts:
1. Part 1 gathers the principal applicant’s basic details.
2. Part 2 requests general information pertaining to the principal applicant, including languages, medical conditions relevant to the application and circumstances affecting the applicant’s capacity to attend interviews at the IPO (including special needs, etc.).
3. Part 3 collects basic biographical information.
4. Part 4 is for inputting family information, with separate spaces for spouses/civil partners, dependent children, parents, siblings and “other dependents”.
5. Part 5 allows for the applicant to detail all documentation potentially relevant to the application.
6. Part 6 gathers visa, residency and travel information of the principal applicant and his/her dependents.
7. Part 7 focuses on the basis of the claim for protection, allowing space for the applicant’s personal testimony; questions on any grounds for both refugee status and subsidiary protection; any action taken by the applicant to obtain protection in their country of origin; whether the person could relocate elsewhere within their country of origin; their fears if returned; whether or not the applicant or their dependents have been “sought, interrogated, arrested, detained or imprisoned by the state authorities in any country”; any affiliation to religious, political or other organisations and any military/paramilitary activity.
8. Part 8 contains information on whether or not the applicant has lodged an application for protection or residency in other countries, including applications lodged with UNHCR.
9. Part 9 deals with permission to remain; in the event that the applicant should be refused both refugee status and subsidiary protection, the minister will take into account the person’s personal circumstances in order to determine whether he or she may be permitted leave to remain. In the previous system, this would have been considered once all initial applications for protection and appeals had been exhausted. However, under the new system, a case for permission to remain must be lodged at the first instance, which will be taken into account automatically in the event that other protection avenues are denied. The applicant is encouraged to notify the IPO of any new information or circumstances pertaining to permission to remain at any stage they might arise in the process including following an appeal at the IPAT, which adds an extra degree of responsibility upon the applicant. It is important to note that under S.I. 664/2016 International Protection Act (Permission to remain) Regulations 2016 an applicant only has a five day period to provide a further submission on permission to remain after the decision of IPAT.
10. Part 10 of the questionnaire contains information relating to possible future applications for family reunification, including details of family members who may be eligible for reunification, such as a spouse, civil partner, minor children, and the parents of unaccompanied minor applicants.
11. Parts 11 – 13 of the questionnaire ask for information about completion of the questionnaire, including any assistance received in its completion.
Upon registering their claim, the applicant is issued a Temporary Residence Certificate which comes in the form of a plastic card and referred to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA). If the applicant requires accommodation, he or she will be taken to Balseskin Reception Centre in Dublin (near Dublin airport). Upon arrival at Balseskin, the applicant may receive medical screening and counselling. After a short period of time the applicant may be transferred to a Direct Provision centre elsewhere in the country. Applicants typically do not have any say as to where in the country they are transferred. Applicants may make their own arrangements for accommodation if they have the financial resources to do so, however it is crucial that they keep the IPO apprised of their address as any correspondence in relation to their claim will be made to that location.
- 1. ORAC, Annual Report 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/2jFiNz5, 55.
- 2. The Information Booklet for International Protection is available in 18 languages: http://bit.ly/2lOwxfr.
- 3. Application for International Protection Questionnaire, draft document received from ORAC by the Irish Refugee Council in November 2016.
- 4. IPO, ‘Clarification regarding the deadline for the return of the Application for International Protection Questionnaire (IPO 2)’, available at: http://bit.ly/2mlf2QD.