Garda immigration office in Dublin

OVER six per cent of all asylum claims in Ireland are coming from people who have already broken the law and are facing criminal charges.

Figures obtained by the Sunday Tribune show that 51 people applied for refugee status from behind bars in the first three months of this year.

The vast majority of the claims came from individuals detained at Cloverhill remand prison where they were facing criminal charges for crimes including drug trafficking, robbery and fraud.

Their application to stay in Ireland must be considered despite the circumstances and they cannot be automatically deported when their prison sentence is finished.

Gardaí said many non-nationals who had been involved in crime were using it as a loophole to avoid being thrown out of Ireland.

One senior officer said: "They have been living below the radar with no interest in making an application for asylum. Then, they come to our attention and claim refugee status. It is simply a delaying tactic and no matter how serious the crime involved is, each case has to be heard on its merits and a decision made before any action can be taken."

In a number of high-profile cases, criminals have actually been granted asylum despite being convicted of a serious offence within Ireland.

Eight years ago, a human trafficker was declared a refugee after being found guilty of human trafficking. Dimitry Beliacoff, a former soldier in Ukraine, was given a four-month sentence for trying to smuggle people into Ireland for €800 each.

In another case, a Jamaican drug-trafficker, Diane Cameron, was granted asylum despite being given a 16-year sentence for cocaine smuggling.

The jail term was later reduced to seven years on appeal and whilst in custody, she applied for asylum.

Gardaí said that dozens of so-called "drug mules" – who are paid small amounts of money to import cocaine or heroin – had applied for asylum.

One officer said: "The standard story is that they claim they will be killed by the drug dealer who sent them to Ireland in the first place. It is hard to disprove."

Immigration sources said some prisoners were using the asylum claim as a means to disappear to the UK or the continent. In those cases, the prisoner waits until the eleventh hour to make their application for refugee status, ensuring a swift decision cannot be made prior to their release. Once set free from prison, they then take the opportunity to leave Ireland and start anew somewhere else in the EU.

In the first three months of the year, 6.5% of all asylum claims came from people being held in prison. Of the 794 claims made between January and March, the vast majority – in all 657 – of all claims were made at the Refugee Applications Centre on Mount Street in Dublin.

The numbers presenting at the Mount Street Centre are a source of concern, said gardaí, as it clearly shows that most asylum seekers are still making their way into the country unimpeded.

One officer said: "It does show how porous the border is particularly in terms of asylum seekers coming into the Republic from the North. In saying that, for every one person that gets in, there is at least one other who has been turned away."