The Refugee Act 1996 as amended by the Immigration Act 1999, the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 and the Immigration Act 2003 sets out core aspects of the current law governing the processing of applications for refugee status in Ireland. The principal purpose of the Act is to give statutory effect to the State’s obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the 1967 New York Protocol. The Refugee Act established the independent statutory Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) and the Appeals Authority. The Act was later amended to establish the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) in place of the Appeals Authority. The Act generally sets out the process for asylum applications. The Dublin Convention, which provided the legal basis for determining which EU Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application, was also incorporated into Irish law through this Act.
The Act implements the definition of a refugee and the exclusion clauses from the 1951 Geneva Convention. The Act embellishes the refugee definition by providing that “membership of a particular social group” includes membership of a trade union and membership of a group of people whose defining characteristic is their belonging to the female or male sex or having a particular sexual orientation. Section 5 of the Act provides for the prohibition of refoulement. Section 8 provides for applications for asylum, and Section 9 provides that applicants for asylum shall be given leave to enter and remain in the State.
The Act allows for asylum applicants to be detained on certain grounds, including where an immigration officer or member of the Garda Siochána, with reasonable cause, suspects that an applicant poses a threat to national security or public order; has committed a serious non-political crime outside the State; has not made reasonable efforts to establish his identity; or without reasonable cause has destroyed his identity documents or is in possession of forged identity documents.
Section 6 establishes the independent Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, whose function to investigate an application for asylum is provided for in Section 11 and the first schedule. Section 15 establishes the independent Refugee Appeals Tribunal, to which the second schedule applies, and whose functions as an appellate body in asylum applications are set out in Section 16.
Section 18 makes provisions for family reunification, enabling the family members of a refugee to enter and reside in the State. If the Minister is satisfied that the person who is the subject of the application is a member of the family of the refugee, the Minister is obliged to grant permission to the person to enter and reside in the State. Family members for the purposes of this Section are a refugee’s spouse, his or her parents if the refugee is under 18 years of age, and any unmarried children under 18 years of age. The Minister has discretion to grant permission to certain dependent members of the family of a refugee.
Section 22 facilitates the application of the Dublin Convention and, latterly, Council Regulation (EC) No. 343/2003, enabling the transfer of applicants for asylum in the State to a Member State in which they previously applied for asylum, and the transfer into the State of applicants who applied for asylum in other Member States subsequent to applying in Ireland.
The Act also provides for the rights that accrue to declared refugees, programme refugees, and for the revocation of refugee status. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is obliged to declare asylum applicants to be refugees where either the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner or the Refugee Appeals Tribunal recommends that they be so declared. Applicants who are refused may not make a further application for asylum without the consent of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.