Dáil Éireann - Volume 649 - 04 March, 2008

Written Answers. - Asylum Applications.

Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of applications for asylum submitted in each of the past five years; the average time being taken to process applications for asylum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8994/08]

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: The information requested by the Deputy in relation to the number of applications for asylum received by the [130] Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner in each of the past five years is set out in the table below:

Asylum Applications Received — 2003 to 2007

Year

No. of asylum applications received

2003

7,900

2004

4,766

2005

4,323

2006

4,314

2007

3,985

Total

25,288

Timescales for the processing of asylum applications

Asylum applications are considered under the provisions of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended), at first instance by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) and at appeal stage by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT).

The length of time taken to process asylum applications differs depending on whether an applicant is dealt with under prioritised arrangements or not. With effect from the 25 January 2005, new arrangements for the speedier processing of applications from certain countries were implemented. These arrangements apply in the main to nationals of Nigeria, Croatia and South Africa. They also applied to Romania and Bulgaria prior to their accession to the EU on 1 January 2007.

The Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner

In terms of the average timescales to process Prioritised cases at first instance, an interview date is usually scheduled within 9-12 working days from the date of the initial application. These applications are normally finalised within a further 5-8 working days, giving an average processing time of 17-20 working days from the date of application.

In the case of Non-prioritised cases, an interview date is usually scheduled approximately 16-18 weeks from the date of the initial application. These applications are normally finalised within a further 4-5 weeks, giving a total processing time of 20-23 weeks from the date of application.

Some cases will take significantly longer to complete, for example, due to medical reasons, non-availability of interpreters or because of judicial review proceedings. Some cases are also more complex than others with applicants coming from over 90 different countries.

ORAC continues to schedule applicants for interview on the date of application unless there are medical or other compelling reasons.

The Refugee Applications Commissioner continues to keep the procedure for processing applications for refugee status in that Office under ongoing review with a view to limiting the amount of time applicants have to wait for a recommendation to be made, without compromising on applicants rights to a fair and balanced examination of their case.

The Refugee Appeals Tribunal

The average length of time taken by the Tribunal to process and complete Substantive appeals is 21 weeks.

[131] The average length of time taken by the Tribunal to process and complete Accelerated appeals (appeals on papers only) is 8 weeks.

The average length of time taken by the Tribunal to process and complete appeals for Prioritised cases is 9 weeks.

While many appeals are completed in a shorter time span than above, many factors such as adjournments, postponements, judicial reviews and requests by legal representatives for access to previous Tribunal decisions can impede the Tribunal from completing cases earlier. High quality, consistent and fair decision making in all cases continues to be a high priority in the Tribunal.

Improvements in Processing Timescales

The Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner has made significant progress in the processing of asylum applications since the creation of the office in November 2000.

In November 2000, when the ORAC was established, there were over 9,400 applications awaiting decision at first instance. As at 31st January 2008, there were 1,272 outstanding applications awaiting a recommendation by ORAC. Of these, only 171 cases were on hands over 6 months.

The RAT has also made significant progress in the processing of asylum applications since the creation of the office in November 2000. Prior to the establishment of the RAT, substantive appeals took, on average, 36 weeks to complete. As already indicated, the average processing timescale for substantive cases is 21 weeks and 9 weeks for prioritised cases.

As at 31st January 2008, there were 3,221 appeals outstanding in the Tribunal. Of these 3,221 outstanding appeals, 2,007 were on hands over six months. A large volume of the appeals outstanding more than 6 months in the Refugee Appeals Tribunal is due to the delay in processing appeals pending the granting of access to Tribunal Decisions following the Supreme Court judgement (in the Atanasov case) on the matter. Following the judgement the RAT set up a comprehensive data bank of previous decisions of the Tribunal, suitably redacted, which is readily available for access by legal representatives of applicants. This data bank, along with other measures being applied by RAT, will be of considerable assistance in clearing the current backlog of cases.