57 fleeing children arrived lost and alone at Irish ports in 2015
At least 57 children have arrived in Ireland to seek asylum without a parent or guardian since the beginning of the year, the Sunday Independent has learned.
The displaced youngsters, officially identified as "separated children", were referred to Tusla child and family services after being detected by authorities at airports and seaports.
The welfare of each child has been assessed and they are now living in foster homes or similar supported lodgings.
According to the Department of Justice, 10pc of children seeking asylum in Ireland this year arrived without a parent or parents.
The majority of accompanied and unaccompanied children fled Albania, Nigeria and Pakistan.
The new figures have emerged as immigrant-support groups voice fears of a looming two-tier refugee system with the arrival of 4,000 refugees as part of a new programme to assist with the European migrant crisis.
Jennifer DeWan, campaigns manager at Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, is worried that current asylum seekers will be seen as less equal to the incoming refugees from the Middle East.
"It basically sounds like new refugees would be treated differently than people currently in the system. Our biggest concern is that it might create a two-tier refugee system," she said.
"Because Syria has evoked such a strong response from people, the press and social media, I fear the new cohort will somehow be seen as more legitimate in people's eyes," she said.
To date, an estimated 4,400 people are living in 34 direct-provision centres throughout the country. At least 33pc - 1,600 - are children.
Advocates are worried that applications for new asylum seekers will be fast-tracked ahead of those who have been waiting for up to a decade in direct provision.
"A lot have been waiting several years in a state of limbo. They've gone through similar struggles, conflicts, pain and suffering to get here" said Ms DeWan.
"By saying this group is not going into direct provision, it's a straight-up admission that the system isn't fit for purpose," she said.
Nasc is also disappointed that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald hasn't implemented recommendations from a recent working group on Ireland's asylum process.
The recommendations include: accelerated decisions on refugee status; subsidiary protection or leave to remain in the State; increasing direct provision allowance from €19.10 per adult per week and €9.60 per child per week to €38.74 and €29.80 respectively; and improving the living spaces for families.
"If we are going to be putting resources into asylum and protection why not put them into improving the whole system for everyone?" she asked.
Meanwhile, Sue Conlan, the CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, has also stressed that those currently in the system must not be forgotten.
"With so much attention on Syrians, we could be diverting staff resources and money when we have an equal obligation to those in the system now," she said.
"Attempts by the Government to say this new programme is not direct provision are just a play on words. It's exactly the same, it's an institution offering a small allowance and a canteen for food," she said.
She is calling on the Government to be more "transparent" about plans for emergency, reception and integration centres throughout the country - many in areas badly hit by the recession.
Ms Conlan warned: "They're alienating people. Consultation and information need to be going to local areas to engage with locals on their fears and solutions."
When asked about concerns over terrorists exploiting the migrant passage into Europe, Ms Conlan said: "Ireland has a neutral foreign policy and is not a target but this message needs to be communicated down to locals."