As of July 19th, Ireland has suspended visa-free entry for those with refugee status traveling to Ireland from 20 European countries. The government makes the decision based on a move “to protect the integrity of the immigration and International Protection systems” out of concern that the system is being abused.

The Council of Europe Agreement on Abolition of Visas Refugees allows visa free travel for refugees between Member States for stays up to three months. The Irish government has decided to avail of the option to temporarily suspend its operation with plans to review after a 12-month period.

Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee expressed that “this is not a decision that the government has taken lightly.” McEntee stated there was evidence of exploitation within the system and that “the government must act swiftly to mitigate the risks to maintain the integrity of our immigration and international protection systems.”  

The arrangement for visa-free travel for Ukrainian nationals made in February still stands as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, states:

“Ireland’s commitment to protecting and assisting those in need, especially those fleeing the unjust and illegal war being waged by Russia against Ukraine, remains steadfast. The decision taken today will assist in the protection of Ukrainians, and those of other nationalities, who are fleeing conflict, as it will lessen the incidence of abuse of this system.”

Ireland is not the first country to have suspended the agreement; previously both France and the United Kingdom suspended operations of the agreement in 1986 and 2003 respectively. Article 7 of the European Agreement allows for suspensions for reasons of public order, security or health.

Refugee and migrant support organisation, Doras, expressed concern by the government’s decision describing it as a “knee-jerk reaction” that is as a “disproportionate, regressive and retrograde action.” In a press release by Doras CEO, John Lannon, he states that the government’s decision does nothing to address the deep-rooted problems at the centre of the issue, including the shortage of accommodation in Ireland. Lannon questioned Minister McEntee’s sentiment about protecting the integrity of the International Protection system describing it as “unclear” and “simply not good enough.”

Lannon raised concern as to how the decision will impact the family reunification process. He expressed that “it compounds the unequal treatment of people fleeing wars and persecution from different parts of the world. Suspending this agreement sends the wrong signal on migration policy and will undoubtedly further add to the huge obstacles faced by refugee families.”

Lannon further remarked that, “The system needs to be upgraded, not downgraded. Asylum seekers need greater protections, not less and Ireland still has a long way to go in that regard.”

Lucy Mackarel – Assistant News Reporter