Government criticised for ‘disingenuously’ linking new refugee scheme to Seanad bill

Wendy Lyon
Wendy Lyon

A new family reunification scheme announced by the Government has been criticised for falling well short of proposals raised by Independent senators.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said his proposals for a new Family Reunification Humanitarian Admission Programme (FRHAP) followed “detailed discussions on family reunification in the Seanad”.

The new scheme, operated under his ministerial discretionary powers, will welcome up to 530 family members of refugees from conflict zones as part of the overall Refugee Protection Programme.

However, immigration lawyer Wendy Lyon told Irish Legal News it was “extremely disingenuous of the minister to attempt to link this scheme to the Seanad discussions” on the International Protection (Family Reunification Amendment) Bill 2017.

The private member’s bill was approved by Senators at committee stage last week, despite the Government’s opposition to it.

Ms Lyon said the Seanad bill “would restore the right of refugees to family reunification with dependent family members”, a “much broader” category than covered by Mr Flanagan’s new scheme.

She added: “The Seanad bill would also apply to all recognised refugees and not just those admitted under the Protection Programme.

“Given that programme refugees are already eligible for family reunification with immediate family members, it’s not even clear to me how this scheme will extend anyone’s rights.

“We’ll have to wait to see the detail - but it’s alarming that they’ve already confirmed that refugees with larger immediate families will have to leave some of them behind, and that the capacity of the refugee’s current accommodation may be taken into account in determining eligibility. This scheme will not come close to undoing the damage that the International Protection Act 2015 has done to refugee family rights in Ireland.”

In a statement, Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, said the new scheme “has the potential to ameliorate some of the worst elements of the family reunification provisions in the International Protection Act, and for that we very much welcome it”.

However, Nasc CEO Fiona Finn added: “As much as we welcome this scheme as a complementary measure, we recognise that it is only temporary and discrete. The Family Reunification Amendment Bill, which passed the Seanad last week, would offer a durable, permanent solution for refugee families going forward.”