Britain’s Tougher Asylum Policy Leaves Ireland Overcrowded

Edited Ireland and UK grunge flags

As Britain intensifies its efforts to deter asylum seekers, one politically explosive result is that parts of Dublin across the Irish Sea are being converted into foul-smelling refugee camps.

It’s a Brexit-related issue that is likely to worsen as tens of thousands of people flee the United Kingdom’s increasingly stringent asylum policies and re-enter the EU through the open Irish backdoor. Since the Celtic Tiger boom three decades ago, asylum seekers have often spent months or years trying to settle in neighboring Britain before arriving in Ireland. For those fleeing war, famine, or poverty, Britain has always been more accessible than Ireland due to its major air links and trafficking routes.

Unprecedented Flow of People

With the U.K.’s new immigration laws passed and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s promise to deport asylum seekers within weeks, Ireland is experiencing unprecedented migration from Britain. As asylum seekers flee the Sunak government’s threat to ship them to the East African nation of Rwanda, with few options for appeal, many are leaving Britain and entering the Republic of Ireland via the checks-free border with Northern Ireland.

Hundreds of single men arrive weekly at Ireland’s International Protection Office, including Arabs, Africans, Afghans, and Indians with regional English accents. They see Ireland as their last chance to stay in Europe after Britain’s departure.

“I don’t want to go back to Nigeria, and I don’t want to go to Rwanda either,”

said Christian, a 25-year-old Nigerian to the Politico, who has spent the past five years living in in northern England after overstaying a student visa. He went through the entire British asylum and appeals process and is now looking for another place to build a life. “I wanted to be in Britain. I didn’t know anything about Ireland besides Guinness, but I’m finding out.”

As the other estimated 80 percent of 7 000 arrivals of this year who entered Ireland, Christian entered the Republic of Ireland by road from the Northern Ireland, which is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with an EU member. He claims he paid a taxi driver £2,400 to drive him and two other Nigerians 102 miles from Belfast, to Dublin, only to discover that others in the asylum queue had taken the same bus for £17.

Not Tight Borders

Keeping the Irish border barrier-free despite Brexit has been crucial for Ireland’s economy and the hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens residing in Northern Ireland. However, it also makes it extremely simple for asylum seekers to move without difficulty from the United Kingdom to Ireland.
Other sea and air routes are more complex. Although Britain and Ireland have had a Common Travel Area for over a century, allowing British and Irish citizens to live and work in each other’s countries, police-operated passport controls are still in place on the Irish end of U.K. flights to ensure that non-European Economic Area nationals can enter.

Crossing by car or train from Northern Ireland has grown in popularity since Irish authorities tightened rules on allowing asylum seekers from the United Kingdom to board flights bound for Ireland.

Over the last year, Ireland’s Department of Integration and the International Protection Office have struggled to find enough housing for 100 000 Ukrainian war refugees and at least 30 000 asylum seekers who have already arrived, amid a national housing supply and affordability crisis.

Irate locals have allegedly burned down several derelict properties intended for development as asylum centers. Civil servants working to manage the fallout expect pressures to increase, possibly to a breaking point. Just over last year 12 arsoning case were registered by the Gardaí, the national police and security service of Ireland. The situation was particularly tense during the violent riots in Dublin’s city center in November. The rioters then targeted several locations that housed asylum seekers.

Illustrating the disproportionate nature of the challenge, the approximately 7 000 asylum seekers who have already arrived this year in Ireland mirror the nearly 7 000 who have crossed over the same period by small boat from France to England — a country 12 times the population of Ireland.

Starting a year ago, a tent city had been allowed to take root outside the International Protection Office, snaking along footpaths and alleys down Mount Street. The slum eventually spread past the headquarters of a government party, Fianna Fáil, and was growing ever closer to the local European Commission office and the Government Buildings base of Simon Harris, Ireland’s new prime minister.

Harris authorized an operation to remove Mount Street refugees, including 12-man tents, during his weekly Cabinet meeting on April 30. At dawn on May 1st, a fleet of buses and taxis transported nearly 300 men to the emergency facilities, while sanitation workers in hazmat suits cleaned the pavements of months of public urination and garbage. Police erected barriers of 1 000 kilogram concrete blocks where the tents had stood, warning refugees that if they tried to camp on Mount Street again, they would be arrested immediately.

However, according to the protection office’s own accounts, this barely addressed the issue. The organization’s staff is still unable to find shelter for over 1 500 asylum seekers who are sleeping rough. Refugee tents can still be found in Dublin’s parks, shops, alleyways, and along the River Liffey, which divides the city. To exacerbate the situation, dozens of Mount Street evacuees have already left their state-provided communal tents to board buses and return to the city center.

Sending Back the People is Not an Option

It’s all becoming too much for Ireland, which wants Britain to return those with active cases in the UK’s asylum system. Otherwise, officials warn that cases inherited from Britain will exceed 20 000 in Ireland this year alone.

However, Rishi Sunak cites France as the reason England should have no sympathy for the Irish. He will not accept returnees from Ireland unless France accepts refugees who crossed the English Channel.

Harris and his justice minister, Helen McEntee, have publicly argued that an unpublished 2020 Brexit-linked memorandum of understanding binds Britain to accept refugees from Ireland. Britain describes the agreement as toothless and non-binding.

Officials from the Department of Justice and the Prime Minister’s Office say they do not expect any deportations to Britain. They point out that no asylum seekers have been returned to Britain since December 2020, when the country exited the EU amid anti-immigrant sentiment.

Previously, when Ireland and Britain were both subject to the same EU asylum rules, such transfers made little practical difference for either country: between 2015 and 2020, Ireland returned 162 migrants to Britain, while Britain returned 156.


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