Harris claims UK Government confirms ‘operating agreement’ for asylum seekers

Irish premier Simon Harris has claimed that the UK Government has confirmed there is an “operating agreement” to allow asylum seekers to be returned between both jurisdictions.

It comes as the Cabinet approved emergency legislation from the Minister of Justice Helen McEntee to allow the UK to be designated as a safe country to enable asylum seekers to be transferred back there.

The Taoiseach said a post-Brexit deal was struck in 2020 and allows asylum seekers whose applications are “inadmissible” to be “returned” to the UK and vice versa.

A High Court ruling in March deemed the legal basis for designating the UK as a safe country to “return” asylum seekers to as unsound under EU law.

Asylum tents
Tents housing asylum seekers near to the Office of International Protection, in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

A row has developed between Ireland and the UK over the weekend after Ms McEntee said there was a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Ireland from across the Northern Ireland border.

After it was suggested the increase could be driven by migrants fearing the UK’s Rwanda plan, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that showed the plan’s effect.

The policy aims to send asylum seekers to the east African nation to deter others from crossing the English Channel.

Mr Harris said on Sunday that Ireland will not “provide a loophole” for other countries’ migration “challenges”, while Mr Sunak said it was “not interested” in any returns deal if the EU does not allow the UK to deport asylum seekers who had crossed the English Channel to France.

However, Mr Harris said on Tuesday that the deal was put in place when the UK left the European Union, that would allow refugees to be “returned in both directions”.

He said this “operational agreements” are in place under the Common Travel Area (CTA).

The Department of Justice has refused to publish the wording of the arrangement which it says provides for reciprocal returns between Ireland and the UK after Brexit.

It said the written agreement was agreed in November 2020 but is not publicly available

A spokesman said: “We do not provide operational details of immigration procedures so as to avoid any impact on the effectiveness of such operations.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, Ms McEntee said the agreement with the UK is a “reciprocal arrangement” in place since Brexit.

She said this is to ensure that “neither of our countries are a place for people to evade or obstruct” the immigration controls and processes of the other.

“To combat any abuse of the CTA, it is essential that we have mechanisms in place to return people to the UK where the UK is deemed to be the appropriate country to process any application for protection,” the minister said.

“It hasn’t been operational owing to a High Court judgment which identified a legal issue which had a bearing on the operation of that arrangement.

“The legislative changes that I will bring to the Houses in the coming weeks will ensure that the arrangement can be operationalised.”

The Irish Government has been accused of displaying “incredible incompetence” over migration issues by the leader of opposition party, Sinn Fein.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald told the Irish parliament: “At a time when we need calm and an assured response, we get panic. At a time time when we need competence and clear communication, we get contradiction.

“This has been a feature confirming the widespread view that your Government is not on top of issues relating to migration, that nobody competent is in charge.

“Scrambling around to turn hotels, B&Ss, office blocks into Direct Provision centres or having tents line the length of Mount Street in Dublin are not the hallmarks of a well-managed system.”

She added: “Ireland is a welcoming, compassionate country and there is no room for racism here.

“We know that there are those who would seek to exploit this serious issue to sow division and hatred.

“That is why clarity is so important. The truth is that your Government from the beginning has made a complete mess of the handling of this situation. We need an immigration system that is fair, efficient and enforced.

“Your government says that you have an agreement with Britain, the British government saying that you do not. Which is it? If you do have such an agreement, has the Irish state made use of this agreement?

“You’ve actually managed to spread this confusion now to between two governments, about an agreement which exists or does not exist. Which is it?”

Mr Harris denied there was any confusion, saying there is a Common Travel Area between the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“As you know, better than most I would imagine, that is a really important Common Travel Area,” Mr Harris added.

“It’s something we value and as you also know, that when Britain made the decision to leave the European Union there was an agreement put in place, one that indeed has been confirmed by the British Government today in relation to an operating agreement for migrants, for refugees to be returned in both directions.

Irish migration
Tents housing asylum seekers near to the International Protection Office, in Dublin (PA)

“We have ours and ours is a rules-based firm migration system that endeavours to provide assistance to people in humanitarian need, but also one that has to make it clear to people that if they don’t have a right to be here, that they need to be asked and leave more quickly.”

Mr Harris added: “We also have every right when countries enter agreements, that those agreements are honoured. This is a country that honours our agreements and I’ve said very clearly that the British Government has acknowledged that there are operational arrangements in place. I welcome that fact.

“I’m very clear that those operational agreements are in place under the Common Travel Area. And I’m very clear that we’re going to legislate to have absolute clarity so that it can work. But I’m also really clear that it’s only one of a number of things we need to do.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the Government’s immigration plan has “failed”.

“The clearest evidence of that failure is just around the corner. Hundreds of people sleeping in tents and makeshift shelters in desperately unsanitary conditions on Mount Street,” she added.

“I was there again this morning, meeting with some of those people, also speaking with local residents and traders who are sympathetic to the desperate plight of those in tents but also deeply frustrated at the deteriorating situation, with more and more tents each day.

“No access to sanitation, no sign of any action from government. It is inhumane and unsustainable.”

Ms Bacik also said that Ireland cannot force Great Britain or any other country to take back (international) applicants after the Irish state has turned them away.

“We’ve heard about an operational agreement but we need clarity on what that is and what obligation is on Britain,” she added.

She also said that Britain’s Rwanda Bill undermines the Good Friday Agreement.

There has been an increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Ireland in recent years, with up to 16,000 new arrivals projected to arrive every year, up from between 3,000-5,000 between 2015-2019.

As Ireland struggles to boost housing supply after falling behind during the economic crash, the influx has put more pressure on the State to house people as their asylum claim is processed.

The Irish government has implemented a number of migration policies in recent weeks, including paring back the offering to Ukrainian refugees who are automatically granted asylum.

A makeshift camp has sprung up at the International Protection Office in Dublin city as more than 1,700 asylum seekers have been left without an offer of accommodation from Ireland.

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –