Vast majority want Garda screening of refugees - but what does it involve?

Newstalk poll finds 88% of people want Garda screening of refugees

Vast majority want Garda screening of refugees - but what does it involve?

Afghan refugees on an overcrowded inflatable boat approach the Greek island of Lesbos in bad weather after crossing the Aegean see from Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. 11 people drowned when a vessel overturned near the island. Image: PA

A Newstalk/Red C poll has found that 88% of the Irish population believe Garda vetting of Syrian refugees is needed before entering the country. But what does that process involve?

As a major concern for the Irish electorate in the run up to the General Election we took a look at the process of screening refugees arriving in Ireland.

To begin, it is worth noting that there are two areas Ireland has announced plans to take 4,000 refugees from (although 520 refugees were part of an earlier agreed programme). Of these people, 2,622 will come from Greece and Italy, with the remainder coming from camps outside Europe, mostly in Lebanon.

And the screening process for refugees arriving from different locations can be very different.

Lebanon

There are currently over one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon – a country with a population of just three million, meaning that one in four people within the Middle Eastern nation are refugees.

Some 70% of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon live below the Lebanese poverty line - $3.84 a day - meaning the country is under intense pressure from the massive influx of refugees.

For those hoping to leave Lebanon for Europe - and Ireland in particular - it can take years for approval to be relocated as a refugee in anther country, with less than 1% of all refugees being chosen.

Any refugees arriving in Ireland from Lebanon will have undergone an intensive, multi-staged screening process that is likely to take a couple of years.

Refugees arriving in Ireland from these camps will have gone through the Lebanese border system, bio-metric testing by the UNHCR, and then a final selection process whereby Irish authorities select potential candidates followed by face to face interviews with Gardaí and Department of Justice officials.

There are long odds and a long wait for any refugees hoping to make it to Ireland through Lebanon. And for young, single men the chances are almost nil. 

From Lebanon to Ireland

The selection process is essentially based upon the needs of different refugees – those who are most vulnerable will get priority.

Ireland follows the same process as nations such as the U.S. and Canada, and which they have used – working with the UNHCR and then selecting the refugees they wish to accept.

The first step is the UNHCR screening process, which involves multiple interviews, home country reference assessment and biological screening – such as iris scans. There is a focus on uncovering anyone with a military past.

“No-one presented for resettlement has a forged I.D. document,” a spokesperson for the UNHCR said.

After this process, of those who have passed, UNHCR staff triage the refugees and a small percentage (roughly 1%) is then recommended for resettlement.

“In practice, the Jordanian and Lebanese authorities stop anyone at their borders who they believe may be a threat. Refugees to both countries need to have I.D. before they get through," they added.

“When UNHCR gets to meet the refugees, an iris scan is carried out as soon as possible and linked to that refugee’s I.D. document," they added.

Priority for the most vulnerable

UNHCR staff on the ground assess applicants for “key vulnerabilities,” the organisation says. These include women and girls at risk, perhaps in a female-headed household, people with physical needs such as disabilities, victims of violence and torture, and people who have serious medical needs.

In 2015, Ireland selected two children with cancer, “both are now doing very well,” a UNHCR spokesperson said.
Once someone is selected their case files are then forwarded to Irish authorities, who will choose those who they want to meet to consider for resettlement in Ireland.

The Department of Justice’s Office for Promotion of Migrant Integration (OPMI) receives the information from the UNHCR. The OPMI assess the applications “for accuracy”, the Department say, before the information is passed on the An Garda Síochána for security checks.

The risk of someone who poses a security threat arriving in Ireland through this route is seen as being very low, due to the multi-phase approach to screening, from Lebanese borders, to the UNHCR and then Irish agencies, allied with the long time-frame.

“The resettlement process itself can take years, which means that is not a viable route for anyone with nefarious intentions in mind,” a UNHCR spokesperson said.

A UNHCR Ireland spokesperson told Newstalk.com: “However, the final say on who takes the refugees is with the national government. UNHCR only presents case files for governments to consider.”

Refugees arriving from Italy and Greece

Of somewhat less clarity, is the system of vetting in Greece and Italy. Ireland has committed to take 2622 refugees from 'hotspots' in Italy and Greece.

In theory refugees arriving on the Greek islands should be processed at ‘hotspots’ – but there is currently only one centre operational, on the island of Lesbos. It's from these ‘hotspots’ that Ireland will select refugees for relocation to Ireland.

The implementation of the hotspot system has been slow, with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald telling the Dáil in January, it is “fair to say (the relocation programme) has not progressed as fast as Member States had hoped.”

Ireland has appointed Liaison Officers to Italy and Greece, Ms Fitzgerald added, “and has also nominated two Irish experts to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to be deployed to the 'hotspot' in Greece,” she said.

The role of these posts will be to identify potential candidates for relocation and aid in the process.

So far Ireland has taken just ten refugees from these hotspots, Ms Fitzgerald confirmed to the Dáil.

"The first ten persons from Syria to be relocated to Ireland arrived on Friday 22 January from Greece. In addition we have indicated that we have twenty places immediately available for relocation from Italy.”

The UNCHR is not involved in assessment of refugees in European nations – this job is undertaken by Frontex, the EU’s border control agency.

A quicker route in Greece

The process in Greece is far quicker than in Lebanon, although seemingly far less organised.

New arrivals to a hotspot who choose not to apply for the relocation programme are first brought to a room with an interviewer and a translator. This stage of the screening process involves quizzing the applicants on their past and identity, before examining all documentation for forgeries. Following this they are fingerprinted before being photographed by Greek police and given a temporary visa for Greece – either 30 or 180 days.

As with refugees arriving from Lebanon, Irish authorities will undertake a similar process when vetting those who have arrived in Greece or Italy and have been recommended for relocation. 

“Case files for relocation candidates are provided by the relevant authorities within the country from which people are being relocated, i.e. Italy or Greece,” the Department of Justice says.

To gain entry to Ireland all applicants must undergo further screenings, including a garda face-to-face assessment, "Garda security assessments of the case files" and biometric screening.

Regarding any threat Ireland faces from international terrorism, the Department of Justice that while Ireland “cannot consider itself immune from the threat” it is nonetheless “considered unlikely” that Ireland will be targeted.

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