Thursday, May 30, 2024

Visa-free travel from South Africa may end under immigration plan

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Ministers will discuss a possible move to end visa-free travel from South Africa, as the Government’s efforts to tighten immigration and asylum processes continue.

The expected move comes less than three years after the need for visas for travel from South Africa was abolished and results from officials’ warnings that people from Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo are travelling on South African passports.

Figures released by the Department of Justice show that the authorities are currently processing the applications of 198 people who arrived on South African passports this year – just over 3 per cent of the total.

It is expected to be discussed at a meeting of the Cabinet committee on migration and integration next Thursday.

On Wednesday, Taoiseach Simon Harris told a Dáil committee the Government would “do more” to reduce the number of applicants for international protection (IP) – or asylum – who were coming over the Border with Northern Ireland.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee told a Dáil committee on Tuesday that more than 80 per cent of IP applicants were arriving in the State via Northern Ireland.

Mr Harris told the Oireachtas Committee that oversees the Departments of the Taoiseach, Finance and Public Expenditure: “We have to do more in this space. This wasn’t always the way. And, in fact, this is a relatively recent phenomenon”.

Mr Harris said measures introduced at airports had reduced the number of asylum seekers arriving, but that greater co-operation was needed between Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the issue.

Earlier Ms McEntee told RTÉ that more than 5,000 people had applied for asylum in Ireland this year, and that half of that number were “secondary movements”, where people come from another “safe” country to claim asylum in Ireland.

Elsewhere, the Government has written to church dioceses asking them to make buildings or lands available to help accommodate asylum seekers as part of a renewed push to find beds.

In 2022, the Government sought church lands to accommodate those fleeing the war in Ukraine but has now asked dioceses for assistance in helping house asylum seekers. This comes amid ongoing pressure to house 1,600 unaccommodated single males.

Minister of State Joe O’Brien wrote to the dioceses in early March as well as seeking more local authority lands or buildings from the County and City Management Association (CCMA).

However, he was told that local authority’s ability to provide additional buildings was “severely limited”.

Mr O’Brien said: “Given the grave situation in terms of the number of people unaccommodated – many of whom are forced to sleep on the streets with all the obvious danger that entails – I feel it is incumbent on me to do everything within my power to try to assist the Trojan efforts of Minister O’Gorman and our officials within the Department of Integration.

“On that basis I wrote to both the CCMA and each diocese, asking them to give serious consideration to their buildings and/or land portfolio with a view to trying to identify anything at all that might help alleviate the situation – even temporarily while we move towards the medium-term plan set out by Minister O’Gorman.”

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