Wednesday 18 September 2019

EU may foot bill for migrants who want to go home

Paul Melia

A FINE Gael TD who was branded as racist for suggesting that non-nationals should be offered incentives to return home may have been just a little ahead of his time.

Yesterday it emerged that the Department of Justice is to look at way of tapping into a €629m EU fund that aims to pay economic migrants who voluntarily decide to return to their countries of origin.

The EU's Return Fund will be available to all member states to provide cash to non-EU immigrants who cannot afford to live here or who have failed in their asylum applications.

But the Department of Justice confirmed last night that officials were examining the rules of the fund to see if it could be applied to EU nationals who want to return home.

Earlier this month, Leo Varadkar was accused of racism by suggesting economic migrants could be paid to leave Ireland.

He said dole payments to jobless foreign nationals cost €400m each year, and that offering a lump sum to people to return home could be a "win win for everyone".

Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin dismissed the idea, saying: "He can only mean Africans, so the comments are racist."

But yesterday the department confirmed officials they were examining the fund to see what money could be drawn down.

"Officials are looking at the fund to see how applications may be made," a spokesperson said.

Examples of measures that could be financed under the fund include counselling, costs of pre-medical checks, costs of travel and food for returnees, training and cash incentives for individuals.

Last night Mr Varadkar said he didn't want to get embroiled in the issue again, but that Ireland needed a debate on immigation. Figures provided last week showed that hundreds of people were assisted in returning home.

Repatriation

"My understanding is that the Return Fund would not be open to non-EU nationals, but the Government has paid for voluntary repatriation of 1,400 people in the past four or five years," he said.

"Despite the over-reaction from Conor Lenihan and Mary Hanafin, it is already being done on a small scale basis so I don't see why it can't be extended.

"The Government doesn't want to talk about immigration. Anyone who says anything is accused of playing the race card. If official Ireland ignores it, it will come back to bite us."

New figures released yesterday show that the Government has spent almost €2m in the last three years repatriating non-EU nationals.

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