The term refugee is commonly used to describe a number of categories of people. These categories of people may have different legal statuses and as a result of these different legal statuses, they may have varying rights and obligations. All of these people are linked to the international protection process as defined in Irish law and based on international convention.
The International Protection Act 2015, which came into effect on 31 December 2016, provides for a single application procedure for international protection. Under Section 2 of the Act, a person who qualifies for international protection is “a person who is either—
(a) a refugee and in relation to whom a refugee declaration is in force, or
(b) a person eligible for subsidiary protection and in relation to whom a subsidiary protection declaration is in force”
The Government is introducing the Irish Refugee Protection Programme that will provide international protection for up to 4,000 people. A network of emergency and orientation centres will be established where assessments and decisions on refugee status will be made.
An asylum seeker is a person who seeks to be recognised as a refugee under the terms of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as defined in Section 2 of the International Protection Act 2015. The Act introduces a new term “applicant” but, for clarity, we will continue to use the term “asylum seeker” as well. Under Section 2 of the Act, the legal definition of a refugee is a person who, "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, is outside his or her country of nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country, or a stateless person, who, being outside of the country of former habitual residence for the same reasons as mentioned above, is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it"
A Convention refugee is a person who fulfills the requirements of the definition of a refugee under the terms of the Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees as defined in the International Protection Act 2015 and who is granted refugee status.
A Programme refugee is a person who has been invited to Ireland under a Government decision in response to a humanitarian request, usually from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), either for the purposes of temporary protection or resettlement.
Section 2 of the International Protection Act 2015 defines a person eligible for subsidiary protection as someone “who does not qualify as a refugee [and] in respect of whom substantial grounds have been shown for believing that he or she, if returned to his or her country of origin, would face a real risk of suffering serious harm and who is unable or, owing to such risk, unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country”.
Under section 49 of the International Protection Act 2015, if an applicant is not given either a refugee declaration or a subsidiary protection declaration, the Minister for Justice and Equality may consider whether they should be given permission to remain in the State. When making this decision, the Minister will have regard to the applicant’s family and personal circumstances along with other matters, including the applicant’s connection to the State and humanitarian considerations.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000. The Phone Service will operate Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm during January 2017. You can also visit your local Citizens Information Centre.