Northern Ireland

Up to 7,000 asylum seekers passed through north on way to Dublin in 2024, says Irish government

An average of approximately 70 a day crossed the border last month

An early morning operation to remove tents which have been pitched by asylum seekers along a stretch of the Grand Canal gets under way
Tents pitched by asylum seekers along a stretch of the Grand Canal in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Up to 7,000 asylum seekers passed through the north’s ports and airports before crossing the border into the Republic this year, the Irish Government has indicated.

Over the month of April, an estimated 2,200 people, more than 70 a day on average, are believed to have crossed the border before making their way to the International Protection Office in Dublin.

Ninety per cent of applications for asylum are now being made away from any of the Republic’s ports of entry, leading to the Dublin government concluding most have arrived from Britain via the north.

Immigration is set to dominate the upcoming European and local elections in the Republic as the latest arrivals from the north have led to accusations that the south is a victim of the British government’s Rwanda policy.

On Sunday, it was announced that the Irish government would review payments to migrants “within weeks.”

“Obviously, the context of all of this is the number of people who are coming to Ireland has increased very considerably over the last number of months,” said Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe.

The Irish Department of Justice said: “As of 7th May 2024, there have been 7,668 applications for International Protection made since January 1st 2024. 7,053 (91%) of these applications have been made in the International Protection Office and not at a port of entry.”

Tents housing asylum seekers near to the Office of International Protection, in Dublin
Tents housing asylum seekers near the International Protection Office in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

“There are a number of circumstances in which someone might apply in the IPO without first applying at a port of entry,” a DoJ spokesperson said.

“They may enter at an airport with valid documentation for example but choose not to apply at that time. Or they may apply having been in the State for a period previously, for example on foot of a different permission to remain.

“However, the Department’s firm assessment, based on the experience of staff and others working in the field, and based on the material gathered at interviews, is that in most cases those applying for the first time in the IPO have entered over the land border.”

Simon Harris has said Ireland is closer to recognising the state of Palestine
Simon Harris has said Ireland is closer to recognising the state of Palestine (Brian Lawless/PA)

Many are believed to be boarding buses in England and continuing the journey the same way from Belfast to Dublin. However, one Nigerian asylum seeker told Politico, the online publication, he and others paid a taxi driver £2,400 to bring them to Dublin from Belfast.

According to the justice department, the largest numbers of asylum seekers are from Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia and Afghanistan.

The north’s points of entry are staffed by both Border Force personnel and police officers.

The Home Office, which has responsibility for immigration, did not respond directly to questions over the numbers passing through the north before making their way south.

Instead, the department sent figures for the number of asylum seekers by council area. In total, at the end of April, there were approximately 500, the vast majority in Belfast.

One individual each in the border areas of Newry, Mourne and Down and Fermanagh and Omagh was listed as an asylum seeker.

Taoiseach Simon Harris has asked Justice Minister Helen McEntee to bring proposals to cabinet to allow the return of inadmissible international protection applicants back to the UK.

The increase in the numbers coming to Ireland is being linked to the British government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

“This country will not in any way, shape or form provide a loophole for anybody else’s migration challenges,” Mr Harris said.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has come in for criticism
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee (Niall Carson/PA)

“Other countries can decide how they wish to advance migration. From an Irish perspective, we intend to have a firm rules-based system where rules are in place, where rules are in force, where rules are seen to be enforced.”

When asked whether there were questions over how the asylum seekers are able to pass through the north’s ports, the department of justice said it “does not comment on immigration matters outside of our jurisdiction”.

“However, there is very good co-operation at operational level between the Irish Border Management Unit (BMU), Garda National immigration Bureau (GNIB) and colleagues in the UK Border Force and Immigration Enforcement,” a spokesperson added.

“This includes a number of ongoing operations, in co-operation with the UK, tackling abuses of the CTA (common travel area) by identifying illegal secondary movement patterns within the CTA and taking effective actions to disrupt abuse of those routes.”

Justice Minister Naomi Long will not comment on the matter, with her department stating: “Asylum and immigration matters do not fall within the remit of the Department Justice. These are non-devolved matters.”

Immigration, with Ireland absorbing close to 100,000 Ukrainians and tens of thousands of asylum seekers in recent years, has become a major political issue in the south.

Multiple thousands of people took part in an anti-immigration rally last Bank Holiday Monday, while the authorities are attempting to deal with makeshift tent camps in Dublin.

A protester in the centre of Dublin
A protester in the centre of Dublin on Bank Holiday Monday (Evan Treacy/PA)

Justice Minister McEntee said 100 gardaí would be released from desktop duties “to make sure that they can work on immigration enforcement as well”.

A Garda spokesman told BBC News NI the officers will not be assigned “to physically police the border with Northern Ireland”.

“The protection of an open border on the island of Ireland was and remains a key priority to the communities on both sides of the border,” he added.

Immigration administrative functions were being transferred from the Garda National Immigration Bureau to the “Immigration Service Delivery function of the Department of Justice”.

“This will free up to 100 gardaí to focus on other core policing duties, which will include deportations and other aspects of immigration,” the Garda said.