Over 5,000 asylum seekers arrived in Ireland without valid travel documents last year

Almost 40% of the people applying for asylum here last year did not have valid travel documents.
Barry Whyte
Barry Whyte

10.43 2 Feb 2023

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Over 5,000 asylum seekers arri...

Over 5,000 asylum seekers arrived in Ireland without valid travel documents last year

Barry Whyte
Barry Whyte

10.43 2 Feb 2023

Share this article

More than 5,000 of the asylum seekers arriving in Ireland last year had either false travel documents or none at all, according to new figures released to Newstalk.

The Department of Justice figures show that between January and November 2022, a total of 5,074 people applying for asylum in Ireland presented either “false or no documentation” on their arrival.

It means almost 40% of the people applying for international protection here last year did not have valid travel documents.


Almost 70% (just over 3,500) were men and 30% (around 1,500) were women.

The figures only include people over the age of 16 because the department does not record minors.

Former Justice Minister Michael McDowell told The Pat Kenny Show that anyone arriving in Ireland without the correct travel documents should be deported.

“If you come to Dublin Airport and you say you have no travel documents – what is your motive in doing that?” he asked.

“It is to conceal your identity and it is to prevent the Irish State from coming to a quick decision as to whether you’re what you claim to be and whether or not you’re somebody who is entitled to international protection.”

Senator McDowell said Ireland’s immigration system is “just ineffectual” – noting that people arriving at other countries without passports encounter a very different approach.

“I would be surprised if all of those travel documents are left on-board Ryanair flights or flushed down toilets on aircraft,” he said. “I don’t believe that happens. I think they are retained.

“But I mean, now, our system is just ineffectual. You are dealing with a person across a desk and they’re not going to search you. You know, try doing that in the United States and you’ll find a very different approach.”

“I think somebody who turns up and claims that between Paris and Dublin or Amsterdam and Dublin, they have lost their travel documents, they should be given very short shrift.”

Senator Michael McDowell at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Senator Michael McDowell at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle, 06/03/2018. Image: Leah Farrell/ RollingNews

Asylum seekers speaking to the show said they pay large sums of money for fake documents and transport to travel to Ireland.

One man said that Ireland is seen as a soft touch internationally.

“After corona came, everything is changed you know?” he said.

“When corona gone, the people start hearing about Ireland. That, in Ireland, they give people the asylum, the papers and they give them the work permit – everybody comes to Ireland. This is the problem.

Asked whether people are coming here because they know they will get their papers easier, he said: “This is reason. This is the only reason. Trust me.”

Asylum seekers Immigration Control at Dublin Airport's Terminal 1 is seen in 2014. Picture by: Mark Stedman/

There are a range of reasons asylum seekers could find themselves without travel documents – with figures showing that 41% of the world’s refugees have no access to passports.

Immigration barrister Cathal Malone explained why people are arriving without documents.

He said asylum seekers often pay traffickers large sums of money to get them to Ireland.

“These documents are very expensive to either get hold of if they are stolen or to produce if they’re forged, so these ‘agents’ will want to use them again,” he said.

“So, often, what will happen is, they will board a flight with you and then, before you get to immigration, they will take the document from you.”

Asylum seekers

He said people who arrive without documents still face rigorous testing before being granted asylum.

“Whatever claim they are making will be assed with reference to information from their country of origin, reports from the US State Department, UK Home Office, reputable international media, information the department gets from Interpol, Europol and other EU countries,” he said.

“So, it is not that we just accept people at face value. There are fairly rigorous interviews and everything someone says is checked to the point that people often end up getting refused for the slightest inconsistencies.”


Ireland is not the only country in Europe dealing with large numbers of undocumented asylum seekers.

Some 45% of the adult asylum seekers arriving in Germany in 2021 had no valid documents, while the figure in the Netherlands was 52% in 2020.

Over 21,000 fraudulent identity documents were presented to the UK Border Force between 2010 and 2020.

Last week saw a rising number of newly arrived asylum seekers forced to sleep on the streets after the Citywest Reception Centre closed to new arrivals.

Recent polls have shown that nearly half the population is not happy with the Government's handling of the crisis – amid growing concern the situation is fuelling the rise of far-right violence and misinformation.

Additional reporting from Michael Staines.

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