Crisis in Afghanistan Underscores Need for Wider Family Reunification in Ireland’s Refugee Policy

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has emphasised the need for more expansive family reunification policies, particularly in the current context of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme for Afghan nationals.

The Commission has consistently criticised the narrowing of access to family reunification for people granted international protection under changes to the International Protection Act in 2015.

Prior to the change in legislation, refugees could apply for extended family members, including grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters who were financially dependent on them to come to Ireland. Since the legislation came into force in 2016, a refugee can only apply for family reunification for their spouse, their unmarried children under 18 or their parents and direct siblings if the refugee themselves is under 18.

The Commission is again calling for family reunification law and policy to be strengthened and expanded, to facilitate safe and legal pathways for family members of refugee communities here in Ireland.  Specifically, the Commission has recommended to Government that the International Protection Act 2015 be amended to:

  • Widen the definition of family members to recognise the diversity of family forms in compliance with international human rights obligations.
  • Allow those who have established long-term partnerships or customary marriages to apply for family reunification and ensure spouses and civil partners are eligible where the marriage or civil partnership subsisted on the date of the application.
  • Repeal or amend the 12-month limit for applications for family reunification
  • And clarify in law the rights of programme refugees to reunification, as well as the rights of refugees who acquire Irish citizenship.

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“As we welcome refugees from Afghanistan, many of whom were at great risk and fear for the continued safety of extended family members who were left behind, we once again call on Government to expand and strengthen the policies on family reunification.

“The narrow definition of family and the short statutory time limit that also came into effect with the legislative change is preventing and will continually prevent many refugees in Ireland from reuniting safely with their loved ones.

“Family reunification is a fundamental right for beneficiaries of international protection in Ireland and the current legislation is simply not fit for purpose.”

 

ENDS

For further information, please contact:

Karen Joynt, IHREC
01 8589601 / 087 448 2963
Karen.Joynt@ihrec.ie
Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

 

Editor’s Note

The right to family unity is a minimum human rights standard, reflected in the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by the final conference which adopted the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Prior to the International Act, 2015, refugees could apply for family members, including grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters who were financially dependent on them to come to Ireland. However, the Act significant narrowed the people who refugees could apply to be reunited with to the following categories:

  • For adults: (i) his/her spouse or civil partner, providing the marriage or civil partnership was in force when he/she applied for international protection; (ii) his/her child, as long as they are under the age of 18 and unmarried at the time he/she applied for international protection.
  • For children: his/her parents and brothers and sisters provided they are under the age of 18 and unmarried.

In a 2018 policy paper, the Commission recommended that the International Protection Act 2015 should be amended to:

  • Widen the definition of family members to recognise the diversity of family forms in compliance with international human rights obligations.
  • Allow those who have established long-term partnerships or customary marriages to apply for family reunification and ensure spouses and civil partners are eligible where the marriage or civil partnership subsisted on the date of the application.
  • Repeal or amend the 12-month limit for applications for family reunification
  • Clarify in law the rights of programme refugees to reunification, as well as the rights of refugees who acquire Irish citizenship.

The Commission’s full policy statement “The right to family reunification for beneficiaries of international protection” published in June 2018 is available at the following link:

https://www.ihrec.ie/app/uploads/2018/06/The-right-to-family-reunification-for-beneficiaries-of-international-protection-June-2018.pdf

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

 

 

 

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