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Border clampdown: Refugees from 20 countries will now need visas to gain entry to Ireland

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Gormanston military camp in Co Meath, which will be used to house up to 350 Ukrainian refugees in military tents as an emergency measure. Photo: Department of the Taoiseach/PA Wire

Gormanston military camp in Co Meath, which will be used to house up to 350 Ukrainian refugees in military tents as an emergency measure. Photo: Department of the Taoiseach/PA Wire

Gormanston military camp in Co Meath, which will be used to house up to 350 Ukrainian refugees in military tents as an emergency measure. Photo: Department of the Taoiseach/PA Wire

Ireland is to temporarily suspend visa-free travel for refugees arriving from a list of 20 “safe” European countries.

It comes after huge pressures to accommodate refugees here have led to Ukrainians fleeing the war being forced to sleep on the floor of an old terminal building at Dublin Airport.

Cabinet ministers met incorporeally to temporarily suspend Ireland’s participation in the Council of Europe Agreement for 12 months.

Under that agreement, refugees who have been granted refugee status in a signatory country do not need a visa to travel to another signatory country, if the purpose of the journey was solely for a visit of a maximum of three months.

Countries signed up to the agreement instead issued Convention Travel Documents to refugees.

However, ministers yesterday decided to suspend this initiative, with Justice Minister Helen McEntee saying there was “evidence that there may be abuse of such systems”, adding that the visa exemption “is being exploited” by those who have already sought international protection from other countries.

Ukrainians will still be able to travel to Ireland visa-free.

Refugees granted the special travel document in Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, or Switzerland will now need to apply for a visa to travel to Ireland.

The suspension will come into effect from noon today.

The decision was taken due to refugees who have already been granted refugee status in other countries travelling to Ireland and applying for refugee status again.

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From January 2021 to January 2022, 760 refugees applied for refugee status here after having already been granted it in another EU country.

Over half (63pc), or 479 refugees, had already been granted refugee status from EU states with visa exemptions.

This makes up 7pc of the 6,494 applications for international protection in that period.

Sources said the decision was taken due to pressures on the refugee system and issues around accommodation.

It emerged in recent days that Ireland is unable to house any more Ukrainian refugees.

Minister McEntee said the decision was not “taken lightly” by the Government.

However, she added: “In recent months, we have seen that the visa exemption provided for in the Council of Europe Agreement is being exploited, including by some who enter the State and subsequently claim international protection, despite having already been granted such protection by another European state. The suspension of the operation of the agreement is temporary and will be reviewed in a year’s time.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the Cabinet decision will help protect Ukrainian refugees.


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