Up to eight more countries could be deemed ‘safe’ under State’s international protection system

Government responding effectively to 72% rise in asylum seeker arrivals, says Helen McEntee

As many as eight more countries could be added to the list of those designated as “safe” under Ireland’s international protection system.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she is reviewing the current list and more countries could potentially be added.

Asylum seekers from the list of safe countries have their cases processed more quickly, with decisions issued within a maximum of 90 days.

Safe countries are places where generally there is no persecution, torture, inhumane treatment or conflict.

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Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, South Africa, Algeria and Botswana are currently on the list.

The possibility of more countries being added comes amid continuing pressure on Ireland’s refugee accommodation system.

During a press conference at the Fine Gael Ardfheis, Ms McEntee was asked about a 72 per cent rise in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Ireland in the first three months of 2024 compared with the same period last year.

She said the Government is “responding in the most effective way possible”, adding: “The quicker we can process applications, the quicker we can provide those who genuinely need our help with that support and assistance, but those who genuinely don’t – that they are given an exit decision and they are told that they have to leave.”

She also said: “The number of applications that we are processing now has more than quadrupled in the last two years alone and if we hadn’t invested in the number of staff that we have, if we hadn’t invested in faster, accelerated procedures, if we hadn’t included more safe countries, then we wouldn’t be processing as many as we are now and we would be in a much more difficult situation.”

Ms McEntee said: “We need to improve the progress that we’ve made.

“That’s why we’ve continued to hire more staff for the international protection office.

“That’s why we will revise, and I’m currently reviewing, eight other countries to potentially add to the list of safe countries.”

This review is expected to completed “probably in a matter of weeks”.

She said the EU’s migration pact “will mean that we will be able to return the people in a much more efficient and a quicker way to countries where they already have asylum”.

“It also means that we will have a better system of checks to identify if anybody coming into our country is potentially a risk.”

And she said there will be new “solidarity mechanisms” and “there’s absolutely nothing negative for Ireland when it comes to joining the migration pact”.

She said Ireland is not the only country that has seen an increase in people seeking international protection.

Ms McEntee said: “We need to look at the root causes of why people are leaving.

“So much of it is because of conflict, so much of it is for economic reasons, so much of it is around climate change.”

She said the EU is looking at how to support those countries to improve their economies and “what we can to bring about peace where there is significant conflict under way”.

There has been speculation that Ms McEntee could be moved to a different department in a reshuffle by incoming taoiseach Simon Harris.

Asked if she had made a strong enough case to stay at the Department of Justice, Ms McEntee said: “That’s a decision for Simon to make.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have work that I would like to continue in the Department of Justice.”

She said she will “fully support” Mr Harris “whatever he decides”.

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