23 October 2019 - As of yet, little is known about the 39 people found dead in a lorry in Essex, or what fate led them to be in that container. What we do know is that people seeking asylum are often compelled to take similar life threatening journeys because of the clear absence of safe alternatives. As new deals shut down routes, and fences and walls go up, people are finding new ways and methods to reach places of safety.

If this needless loss of human life is connected to forced migration, it brings into sharp focus the desperate need for safe and legal pathways to protection and migration. 

Since 2014, 18,898 deaths were registered in the Mediterranean alone. It continues to be the most dangerous crossing in the world. It is very likely that countless other, unrecorded lives have been lost as Europe focuses on stemming migration flows.

Until we see more proactive responses and solutions which open up safe and legal ways for people to escape persecution we will continue to see people making journeys of this nature. No person should find themselves in a situation where they feel that their only choice is to pay smugglers to transport them on dangerous and arduous journeys with no guarantees for their safety or how their journey might end.

While Ireland has taken steps to develop safe and legal pathways to protection, it and other European countries, can do more. Humanitarian visa and admission programmes, an increase in the numbers committed to under the EU relocation and resettlement schemes, fair family reunification processes, and other legal channels of migration such as student visas and work permits, would ensure that men, women and children are not putting their lives at risk to reach Europe, a place they perceive to be safe and free from violence, a place where their rights should be protected.

Europeans have been rightly critical and outraged by actions in the US of late. Now it is time for self-reflection and outrage at the role EU policies and deals are playing in avoidable loss of human life.

39 people are gone. 39 families will grieve their loss.

- ENDS -

On World Refugee Day 2016 the Irish Refugee Council published ‘Safe and Legal Pathways to Protection’ which outlined models of access for persons seeking protection that could be considered by the Irish government. These included:

Humanitarian Visas

Humanitarian visas are a form of ‘protected-entry procedure’ which would enable people to legally travel to a country to claim international protection.

Humanitarian Admission Programme

These programmes consist of States admitting vulnerable and other at-risk populations to access temporary protection on humanitarian grounds. Ireland has experience of this through its Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme (SHAP) and Irish Refugee Protection Programme Humanitarian Admission Programme (IHAP) whereby certain nationalities resident in Ireland could apply for family members to join them in Ireland.

Increase the number of people under the Resettlement and Relocation Programmes

To date Ireland has not met its pledge of accepting 4000 people under the Resettlement and Relocation Programmes. While some EU Member states are faring well in this respect, others have played little to no role.

Community Sponsorship programmes

Community sponsorship essentially involves individuals or community groups assuming responsibility for providing financial, social and emotional and other settlement support to a resettled refugee or refugee family for a predetermined period of time.  Ireland has recently started a pilot phase of this programme and several communities are in the process of preparing to accept a family into their community.

A more fair and efficient family reunification procedure

The International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017, which is being blocked by the Government by a Money Message, seeks to amend the International Protection Act of 2015 and return to the family reunification provisions in the Refugee Act 1996. The 2015 Act narrowed the definition of family for refugees to a spouse and any children under 18. This means refugees living in Ireland remain separated from their children over 18, civil partners, siblings, parents, grandparents and guardians. Many of these families have already been traumatised by violence and persecution in their home countries.

Proactive use of the family criteria under the Dublin Regulation

Certain criteria under the Dublin Regulation enable family reunion for asylum seekers, in particular unaccompanied children. However, these criteria are often under-utilised in practice and emphasis is often placed on assigning Member State responsibility on the basis of irregular entry which places a disproportionate burden on States such as Greece and Italy. A more proactive use of family criteria under the Dublin Regulation should be employed along with efficient family tracing services to refugees to use this instrument to reunite with family members. Similarly, the Irish government should more frequently apply the discretionary clauses in the Dublin Regulation to enable asylum seekers to have their claim examined in Ireland for humanitarian reasons.

Other legal channels of migration

The use of other legal channels of migration should be further explored such as work permit schemes and study visas which would enable people to safely travel to and reside in a country like Ireland.