Key drivers behind increase in international protection applications identified in new ESRI research

Between January and June 2022, 6,494 applications for international protection were lodged in Ireland. This was a significant increase as compared to the 2,235 applications in the first half of 2019, the most recent year not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While there was also an increase in applications across the EU, Ireland was among a small number of EU countries that saw applications rise continuously throughout the first six months of 2022.

New research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) identifies key reasons for the marked increase in applications in Ireland in 2022 and finds that it is likely a confluence of several factors. This research was funded by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY). While a small number of international protection applications were from Ukrainian nationals, the vast majority fleeing Ukraine have applied for temporary protection in Ireland and are not examined in this research.

Key factors: Post-COVID-19 catch-up, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and conditions in countries of origin

  • Post-COVID-19 catch-up migration: Travel restrictions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic significantly reduced international migration for two years. With a sharp jump in applications from February 2022 onwards, Ireland may be seeing a form of ‘catch-up migration’. At the same time, the pandemic has also had economic impacts on countries globally, which has complex effects on migration patterns.
  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has caused significant displacement, and while most of those displaced from Ukraine are covered under the Temporary Protection Directive (and are therefore not counted in application figures), the knock-on effects of the war on neighbouring countries and on socio-economic conditions in many other countries may be contributing to the increase in Ireland.
  • Conditions and conflict in countries of origin are also significant factors in the recent increase. The research identifies that for many of the top nationalities applying for international protection in Ireland (including Somali, Afghan, Ukrainian, Egyptian and Georgian), conditions and conflict in countries of origin are important drivers. Applications from these nationalities are increasing not only in Ireland, but across Europe.
  • The movement of refugees from other EU Member States to Ireland also appears to be playing a role in Ireland’s increase, although it is difficult to draw concrete conclusions because the available data is limited. Key reasons for this type of movement may include reuniting with family, living conditions in the first EU Member States, as well as limited possibilities for intra-EU mobility.

Additional factors affecting the destination selection of Ireland  

Policy changes in the UK were unlikely to have had a significant effect on recent application figures in Ireland. However, there may be a small deflection effect for certain nationalities (e.g., South African and Zimbabwean), whereby instead of going to the UK, applicants come to Ireland. The UK is also seeing a significant rise in applications, and, while Ireland may be affected by some of this increase, the UK’s increase is driven by different nationalities.

Conditions in Ireland, including current labour market shortages, may be contributing to the increase. A long-term social network effect following growing immigration to Ireland over the last 30 years may also contribute to more asylum applications. While a generally positive perception of Ireland was also found to be a potential factor, the research concluded that it was highly unlikely that specific integration or reception policies in Ireland were influencing applications.

Lastly, the routes available to travel to Ireland and intervening obstacles, such as distance, carrier sanctions and visa requirements, affect application numbers.

The research demonstrates that no individual factor fully explains the increase in the first six months of 2022. Instead, it results from the confluence of short-term and likely temporary drivers increasing absolute numbers, with potentially longer-term drivers changing distribution patterns. Available figures for July to September 2022 indicate that international protection applications have begun to fall since a peak in June 2022.

Keire Murphy co-author of the report stated that, “the recent increase in international protection applications in Ireland is a significant change from previous years. While much of the EU has seen such figures before, Ireland has long been an outlier with a low number of applications. The White Paper on Ending Direct Provision was based on a figure of 3,500 new applicants a year, however, this report has shown that international protection applications tend to vary significantly, and so our reception systems need to be designed with this in mind.”

Roderic O’Gorman T.D., Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, said: “I want to thank the ESRI for this report, which was carried out on behalf of my department. The report was commissioned to try and understand the substantial increase in arrivals of International Protection applicants to Ireland over the last 10 months and to assess if this trend will continue long-term. The report identifies a number of different factors impacting on why International Protection applicants choose their destination and highlights that there appears to be no one definite factor. As the report indicates, further research is required to understand fully the Irish context and my department is currently working to commission further research in this area.”