Who is a refugee?

A refugee is somebody who is outside her country citizenship, or the country where she formerly lived, and is unable or unwilling to return to this country as she fears persecution on the basis of her race, nationality, religion, membership or a particular social group or political opinion. This is the definition set down in the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees. In Ireland, this definition is set down in Section 2 of the Refugee Act 1996. If an asylum seeker is recognised by Ireland as a refugee, she has a right to reside in Ireland, the right to work, the right to claim social assistance, the right to enter further education and the right to bring certain family members to Ireland.

Who is an asylum seeker?

“Let us remember that a bogus asylum-seeker is not equivalent to a criminal; and that an unsuccessful asylum application is not equivalent to a bogus one.”- Kofi Annan

An asylum seeker is a person who claims to be in need of refugee protection but whose claim for refugee status has yet to be determined. In Ireland, an asylum seeker’s claim for refugee status is determined by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC). If ORAC does not recognise a person as a refugee, she can then appeal to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT). Legal advice and legal representation is provided to asylum seekers by the Refugee Legal Service, which is a specialised office in the Legal Aid Board.

While awaiting her claim to be processed and decided, an asylum seeker is prohibited from working. She is accommodated in the direct provision system, where she receives bed and board, along with a payment of €19.60 per week (and €9.60 per week per child). An asylum seeker is not entitled to any other form of social assistance payment while in Ireland. Asylum seekers are entitled to free health care, and child asylum seekers or child dependents of asylum seekers are entitled to the same right to education as Irish children. Asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants and are entitled to remain in the state until such time as their refugee claim has been granted or rejected. The recognition rate of asylum seekers as refugees in Ireland is just under 2%, the lowest recognition rate in the European Union.

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Written by Liam Thornton

Liam Thornton is a lecturer in law and director of clinical legal education in University College Dublin. His particular research interests are on issues relating to the welfare state, human rights, socio-economic rights, Governmentality, immigration law and EU law. You can contact him at liam.thornton[at]ucd.ie or (+353) 1 716 4129.