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Ireland to fast-track asylum applications from "safe" countries

15 September 2003, 13:13 CET

Asylum seekers arriving in Ireland from EU accession states and Romania and Bulgaria are to have their applications for refugee status fast-tracked from Monday, according to the justice ministry.

The move is part of a range of changes taking effect following extensive amendments to immigration laws.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell has designated the 10 EU accession states: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovak Republic and Slovenia as "safe countries of origin" along with EU applicant countries Romania and Bulgaria.

In the first five months of the year, 12 percent of Irish asylum applications involved Romanians, making them the second largest category after Nigerians.

McDowell said the changes are based on experience resulting from the operation of refugee laws in recent years.

Asylum seekers from any of the countries will have their applications prioritised by the processing agency and will have to prove they need refuge.

They will have to "rebut the presumption that they are not in need of refugee protection," McDowell said.

If an application is accepted and then rejected, any appeal will only be allowed in writing instead of the normal oral hearing.

The Irish Refugee Council (IRC), which supplies legal support to asylum seekers, said the safe country fast-tracking move is causing "huge concerns" says it will carefully monitor the implementation of the new system.

"We would have huge concerns that people could be returned to somewhere where they face prosecution," said Cabrini Gibbons, IRC legal officer.

Minorities within "safe" countries, such as the Roma in some Eastern European states, still face persecution.

Gibbons said the period to lodge appeals from "safe" country applicants was being cut from 10 to four days.

"That is going to be very difficult. Four working days is going to put a lot of pressure on solicitors and the refugee legal service. We agree certain realistic time limits are needed, but four days is impractical," she said.

After the 10 accession states become members of the EU next May, anyone from those countries will be able to travel freely to Ireland.

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