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Surge in number of migrants arrested and prosecuted after arriving in Republic without travel documents

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The number of migrants arrested and prosecuted following their arrival in the Republic without travel documents has increased significantly.

Figures obtained by The Irish Times show 96 people were arrested and brought before the courts since the start of the year, compared with two such cases in all of last year. The figures cover the period to the end of April, with Garda sources confirming the number of cases has since surpassed 100.

Although the rate of new arrivals without passports or other travel documents, at 3,285 last year, far exceeds the number of arrests, senior Garda officers believe the ramping-up of checks, often at the doors of planes at Dublin Airport, is acting as a significant deterrent.

However, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said it was concerned about the arrests. Executive director Liam Herrick said while the number of such arrests – followed by many of those people being charged and prosecuted – had increased, it is well established that many people fleeing persecution may have “perfectly legitimate reasons” for arriving in the Republic without documents.

Mr Herrick noted people arrested on arrival in the Republic, and then prosecuted for not having travel documents, retained their right to claim international protection. The ICCL was concerned that the policing operation resulting in the higher number of arrests, combined with refusals to land in the State, may result in people being denied their right to claim asylum.

In reply to queries, the Department of Justice, whose Border Management Unit is responsible for frontline immigration at Dublin Airport, confirmed the unit was carrying out “doorstop operations at aeroplanes to target those who destroyed documents in-flight”.

Last week, one such operation was run on a flight that had arrived in Dublin from Istanbul that was carrying Tánaiste Micheál Martin and his officials, along with Defence Forces Chief Staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy.

The Garda has confirmed 96 people were “arrested and brought before the courts in relation to presenting false or no documentation after arriving at an Irish airport or port” between the start of the year and April 30th.

The Department of Justice said Minister for Justice Helen McEntee had taken a “number of actions to reduce the number of people arriving without documents”. These measures had resulted in a 34 per cent reduction in the “numbers arriving without documentation” last year, a trend that had continued in the first months of this year.

The “doorstop operations”, as passengers disembark aeroplanes, were carried out to “establish a person’s identity and nationality”. Immigration officers, the Department added, must determine whether a non-EEA national should be granted leave to land and gain entry to the State. All of the circumstances of their arrival, including whether they had travel documents, could be considered.

“When a person is refused leave to land at Dublin Airport, the immigration officer will arrange for the person to be referred to the Garda National Immigration Bureau for removal from the State,” the Department added. “The priority is to return them on the next available return flight to the last point of embarkation.”

Arriving in Ireland without valid travel documents is a crime, punishable by up to 12 months in prison or a €3,000 fine. Between 2019 and 2023 there was just one prosecution and no convictions. However, in recent months there have been multiple convictions, at Dublin District Court under sections 11 and 12 of the Immigration Act, involving prison sentences of up to two months.

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