Britain takes back 50 migrants from Ireland

Asylum seekers set up camp in Dublin
A migrant camp in Dublin. More than 6,000 people had applied for asylum in Ireland by April 12 this year - Niall Carson/PA

Britain took back 50 migrants from Ireland just months before Rishi Sunak said he was “not interested” in accepting asylum seekers who had crossed the border into the Republic.

The Prime Minister refused to take back any migrants in April after Ireland said up to 90 per cent of asylum seekers in Dublin had fled Northern Ireland because they feared being sent to Rwanda.

However, Irish police had stopped buses travelling from Belfast to Dublin in October and February. Official figures, released on Wednesday, showed 25 illegal migrants were arrested in each of the two four-day operations.

The migrants, including three children, were returned by ferry to Holyhead or by train to Belfast after the checks, which resulted in two people being charged with illegally facilitating entry into the UK.

The operations were carried out as part of Operation Sonnet, a long-standing joint arrangement between the Garda National Immigration Bureau and the Immigration Enforcement Team in Northern Ireland.

Returns stopped in March

The details were contained in monthly reports submitted by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to the Policing Authority and reported by the Irish Times.

Returns were stopped in March after the Irish High Court ruled that its Ministry of Justice had exceeded its powers in designating the UK a safe country after Brexit. The Irish government is preparing legislation to allow returns to continue in the future.

In April, Mr Sunak said the UK would not accept any migrant returns from Dublin while Ireland’s fellow EU member France refused to accept returned Channel migrants.

Migrants who feared being sent to Rwanda set up camp in Dublin in April
Migrants who feared being sent to Rwanda set up camp in Dublin in April - Niall Carson/PA

Simon Harris, the taoiseach, urged Mr Sunak to abide by the UK-Ireland Common Travel Area returns agreement but the Government said the post-Brexit arrangement was not legally binding.

The UK also raised concerns about Irish plans to send 100 extra police to areas close to the border, which was kept open by the Brexit treaty creating the Irish Sea customs border between Britain and Northern Ireland

As the row continued, Downing Street suggested Ireland could join the Rwanda plan, which was dismissed as “satire” by the taoiseach.

Tensions over immigration high

The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that Mr Harris’s government was considering further restrictions on benefits for refugees in an attempt to drive down numbers arriving.

Tensions over immigration are high in Ireland, a country of about 5.1 million people, which is struggling with a housing crisis and has welcomed more than 104,000 Ukrainian refugees since Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion.

More than 6,000 people applied for asylum in Ireland by April 12 this year alone. If that rate continues, Ireland would have a record number of more than 20,000 asylum claims by the end of 2024. The previous record was 13,000 in 2004.

Dublin has claimed up to 90 per cent of the asylum seekers have crossed the border with the UK, but that has been disputed.

In an answer to a parliamentary question from Michael McNamara, the Clare Independent TD, Helen McEntee, the justice minister, also revealed that more than 21,000 asylum seekers were still awaiting a first decision on their claims and 30 per cent of them had been waiting for between one year and two years for the decision.

The immigration figures were released after the High Court in Belfast ruled that the Rwanda Plan broke the Windsor Framework Brexit border treaty and the European Convention of Human Rights, and disapplied it in Northern Ireland.

This led to warnings from some Unionists that it would make Northern Ireland a magnet for illegal migration.

The Home Office has been asked for comment.