The Irish Times view on Ireland’s list of ‘safe’ countries: a difficult balance

The change in designation of both Algeria and Botswana seems to be driven by their position on the list of countries of origin for asylum seekers

Algeria does not fare well in the Amnesty International Report on the state of the world’s human rights in 2022 and 2023. Authorities in the North African state continue to suppress dissent through arrest and prosecution, the use of anti-terrorism laws and closure of organisations critical of the regime. Amnesty’s list of human rights transgressions by Algeria is long and it is echoed in the Human Rights Watch world report for 2023.

Botswana subjects migrants and asylum seekers to arbitrary detention and there is an issue with gender-based violence, according to Amnesty. Botswana gets a pass from Human Rights Watch. It is not covered in their report.

The decision by the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to designate Algeria as a safe country – defined as generally free from persecution, torture, inhumane treatment or conflict – for the purposes of international protection is contentious to say the least. The designation of Botswana may be less concerning. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that the designation of both countries has as much to do with their position on the list of countries of origin for asylum seekers as their human rights records. The introduction of fast-tracked decision making for applicants from safe countries saw Georgia – also deemed a safe country – fall from first to fifth in the table last year.

Algeria is currently second on the list with 1,462 applications in 2023. Botswana was ninth in 2022. If Georgia is any guide the number of applicants from Algeria and Botswana will fall rapidly. It is an open question as to whether this is evidence of unjustified applications.

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McEntee’s decision speaks to the wider problem the Government faces in addressing genuine public concern about abuse of the asylum process by economic migrants, whilst being mindful of Ireland’s obligations under international law to offer protection to people fleeing oppression and persecution. Getting this balance right is a significant challenge and the Government must be wary of focusing on eye-catching policies that risk feeding the false narrative that Ireland is full.