Stephen Collins is a solicitor with the Irish Refugee Council Independent Law Centre.
His writing has appeared previously at The Law Society Gazette, TheJournal.ie and
Guernica / A Magazine of Art and Politics. You can find his Twitter here.
How will the International Protection Bill 2015 affect refugees if it passes into law? The best way to answer that is to explore its potential effects on a group of people with strong protection needs: Syrians.
Let’s imagine a Syrian man with a wife and two children. He fears being forcibly conscripted to fight against ISIS; he fears ISIS even more. Since the President has banned men of fighting age from leaving the country, he contacts smugglers to arrange safe passage to Europe. The price they quote is too high; he can only afford to bring one of his children. He leaves the oldest with her mother, planning to send for them later.
The smugglers arrange everything. They give him a new passport in exchange for his Syrian original; they tell him it’s best to hold a European one. The man in the photograph bears a passing resemblance to him. Several days later he arrives in a country he’s only heard of before: Ireland.
The first he hears about the International Immigration and Protection Bill 2015 is when he arrives at Dublin Airport. Section 20(1) of the Bill makes it an offence to possess a “substituted identity document”, which S.S.20(18) defines as a “document that does not relate to the person who is in possession of the document”. Members of An Garda Síochána arrest him without warrant and confine him to a place of detention pending the outcome of his asylum application. Far from getting the protection that he needs, he finds himself in Cloverhill Prison for up to a year and a half.
Things go no better for his son. Authorised Immigration Officers notify the Child and Family Services that the boy is unaccompanied by an adult taking responsibility for him (S.14). The child is put into care until his father gets him out or he turns eighteen, by which time Syria could be on a ‘safe list’ under S.71.
Of course the idea of putting Syrians in jail at the moment is ridiculous. Everyone knows they fear persecution, so they can expect to be spared the worst excesses of the International Protection Bill. Its provisions are meant to catch less-deserving asylum seekers such as economic migrants or criminals or, to put it another way, the provisions of the Bill will be discriminately applied according to the judgement of civilian Immigration Officers with the Border Management Unit. So let’s free our Syrian father from jail, take his son out of care and put them in the asylum system.
Direct Provision (DP) is not addressed in the Bill, so our father and son go to Balseskin Accommodation Centre. The Minister for Justice failed to raise DP payments once in fifteen years, so our father gets €19.10 per week and his son €9.60—one of the lowest payments in Europe. Still, the Minister for State has said that Direct Provision has nothing to do with the International Protection Bill, so let’s move on. If our father tries to work for extra money to send his wife he’s guilty of an offence under S.16(5) and liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one month, a fine or both. Therefore, work has something to do with international protection, even if money from the State does not.
The process won’t take long, or at least not as long as it used to. Our father hears a lot about a single application procedure. His application for subsidiary protection is considered at the same time as his application for refugee status, as it was in every other EU country except Ireland before the Bill became law. Syrians have a 75% chance of having their applications accepted, so our father doesn’t notice any difference; his application for refugee status takes as long as it would under the “old” system. He keeps that to himself, though, along with his reservations about having to choose a form of persecution from a list under S.7.
In the end, our father and son win a bittersweet prize: refugee status. The son wasn’t allowed make a separate application under S.15(3), so his father’s win is his. They’re free to leave DP, if they can find affordable accommodation – which they won’t, and to work, if they can afford childcare – which they can’t. But there are more important things: his wife and daughter are in Syria, trapped and increasingly desperate.
Our father makes an application for family reunification under S.55. Unfortunately, his oldest daughter has turned eighteen, making her ineligible for reunification (S.55(9)). The family must choose between abandoning their eighteen-year-old daughter in Syria, and abandoning an application for Family Reunification.
Few parents would leave a child in a conflict zone; at least not while there’s a slim chance of escape. The family sells the last of its resources to buy the mother and daughter passage to Ireland; it’s more expensive with Russia and alliance forces bombing Syria. The women are now at the mercy of traffickers and criminals, to say nothing of deserts and seas. Little do they know as they step into a rubber dinghy on the shores of Izmir, Turkey that this is part of the Minister for Justice’s plan to deal with the refugee crisis:
“The introduction of the single procedure, together with other reforms in the proposed International Protection Bill, will allow us to efficiently grant international protection to those who are entitled to it.”
The mother and daughter have one consolation waiting when they reach Ireland: they know what to expect. As they hand over their substitute documents to an Authorized Officer at Dublin Airport, the whole thing starts again.