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Sunak's asylum policy alienates Dublin

The British government's tough stance against migrants also affects Ireland. Because many refugees move there from Great Britain. Does London have to take them back? Prime Minister Sunak doesn't want to know anything about it.

Franziska Hoppen

The excavator rolled in in the middle of the week. One by one, he picked up the tarpaulins and tents that lined several streets in central Dublin and lifted them into the back of a truck for removal.

Asylum seekers had been camping here for weeks in the cold and rain in front of the authority that examines their applications. Some of the migrants had just arrived in Ireland – from Great Britain.

In front of the authority in Dublin, the migrants' tents stretched across several sidewalks.

Accusations directed at Sunak

A dispute has now broken out between the governments in Dublin and London over them. “Obviously more people are coming from England to Northern Ireland and from there to our Republic,” said Micheal Martin, Irish Foreign Minister. And: It is clear that this is connected to Great Britain's Rwanda policy.

Some ministers estimate that more than 80 percent of the approximately 6,700 migrants who have sought asylum so far this year have come across Northern Ireland's open border, i.e. from the United Kingdom – significantly more than usual.

Sunak sees himself vindicated

This makes British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak happy. He sees the numbers as proof that his Rwanda policy is working. “Stop the boats” was one of his core promises in the election campaign, i.e. stopping refugees coming to Great Britain via the English Channel through deterrence.

Migrants who arrive without documents should be deported to Rwanda. After much back and forth, Parliament approved this controversial plan at the end of April. This was despite the British Supreme Court ruling that Rwanda was not a safe third country.

Ireland doesn't want to be a loophole

But what Sunak sees as confirmation of his domestic policy is creating a testy mood in Ireland. Simon Harris, the Irish head of government, said he would not allow other countries' migration policies to influence Ireland's. Ireland will not provide a cure for other people's problems.

Harris would prefer to send the refugees back to Great Britain straight away. But that doesn't work. Because of the controversial Rwanda policy, the Supreme Court in Dublin had declared Great Britain unsafe.

Now Ireland is again planning a law that would declare Great Britain a safe third country.

A suggestion with ulterior motives

So the situation is tricky. Sunak also doesn't see why his country should take the refugees back. According to the Prime Minister, no returns from the EU via Ireland will be accepted if France does not accept returns of people who have arrived illegally from England.

Instead, Sunak is said to have suggested that Ireland simply become part of his Rwanda plan, reports the London Daily Telegraph.

But on the green island, understanding for neighbors is shrinking. Irish politician Barry Andrews, who represents Dublin in the European Parliament, called for constructive talks. People should try to have adult conversations with each other. After all, both countries depend on each other when it comes to migration policy.

The mood is changing in Ireland

In fact, there is a lot at stake for both Britain and Ireland. The otherwise hospitable mood in Ireland has been changing for some time now. The country is facing a severe housing crisis.

Only last November, violent riots in Dublin, coupled with xenophobic slogans, shook up politics. Now there was even a brief discussion about controlling the border with Northern Ireland in order to stop the refugees from Great Britain there directly.

But Ireland rejected the plan again. After all, keeping the border open was an integral part of the Brexit negotiations in order to avoid a re-emergence of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Sunak clings to the Rwanda plan

In London, Sunak and his Conservative party are under pressure. The voters are turning away in droves. So Sunak is clinging to the Rwanda plan as a last-ditch show of strength.

But from the opposition's point of view, this is backfiring. The Interior Ministry just released a video that provides insights into the deportation process. Officials ring the doorbell at refugees' homes and transport them in handcuffs into prison vans – in preparation for the deportation flights to Africa planned for the summer.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss ripped up the video as “pathetic, fascist nonsense”. Her stomach turns when she looks at it. The opposition in Westminster had repeatedly criticized the Rwanda plans as neither practical nor legally secure.

Protest against a residential ship

At the same time, a number of people demonstrated in London against the transfer of migrants to the controversial Bibi Stockholm, a residential ship with up to 500 beds that is anchored in Portland. In the past there was already an outbreak of legionella in the cramped refugee accommodation. An asylum seeker committed suicide on the ship in December. Police arrested 45 people during the demonstrations.

The victims of the flexing of muscles in Westminster and Dublin are now the refugees. Your future is initially uncertain. Only a few smugglers probably make a profit. A refugee told the TV station Channel Four that he had observed them offering rides to Dublin across the open border to some refugees who had just arrived for £1,200. The Belfast-Dublin bus ticket costs less than twenty pounds.

Franziska Hoppen, ARD London, tagesschau, May 8, 2024 9:28 a.m

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