In response to an approach by members of the Syrian community in Ireland and in light of the on-going humanitarian crisis in Syria the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, TD announced on the 12th of March 2014 that he is putting in place an immigration based humanitarian admission programme with a view to providing some further assistance to vulnerable persons affected by the conflict in the region. The “Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme” (SHAP) will focus on offering temporary Irish residence to vulnerable persons present in Syria, or who have fled from Syria to surrounding countries since the outbreak of the conflict in March 2011, who have close family members residing in the State.

In announcing the SHAP the Minister said that the situation in Syria is of catastrophic proportions and there are no immediate prospects of a resolution to the conflict. Ireland needs to do more to allay the concerns of family members who are present here about their most vulnerable family members and to show further solidarity with the surrounding countries which have shouldered most of the burden of the refugee crisis since the start of the conflict”. 

The Minister said that the SHAP will allow naturalised Irish citizens of Syrian birth and Syrian nationals already lawfully residing in the State, to apply for vulnerable close family members to join them here on a temporary basis for up to two years. These are persons who are considered by the family member (“sponsor”) living in Ireland to be most at risk. A period of six weeks will be provided for persons to make applications under the programme.

The Minister explained that sponsors will be invited to submit applications for up to four of their most vulnerable family members, two of whom should be prioritised by the sponsor for admission in the first instance. However, the Minister said that in order to protect family unity and to address individual family circumstances in a considered, humane and reasonable way, the intention would be to apply this rule flexibly to avoid the breaking up of family units having regard to an overall quota of entrants into the state being established for the Programme. These quotas will be kept under review having regard to the number of applications received under the Programme and the developing circumstances.

The Minister said that “the programme is an additional initiative in response to the crisis in Syria and is without prejudice to other avenues whereby Syrian nationals might lawfully enter the State, such as family reunification for the family members of refugees and persons with subsidiary protection, and UNHCR’s resettlement programme”. In this regard, the Minister pointed to the Government having already committed to accepting up to 90 Syrian refugees this year under the UNHCR resettlement programme. In addition, under the national asylum procedure, almost all Syrians who have applied for asylum in Ireland since the start of the conflict in Syria in March 2011 have been declared to be refugees. Ireland has already provided €19.3m to date in financial assistance for Syria and the wider region, bringing its overall funding commitment to the crisis to €26m from 2011 to year end 2014.

Persons admitted under the programme will be entitled to work, establish a business, or invest in the State. A key condition of the programme is that these persons should not become a burden on the State. If these family members cannot find employment the onus will be on the sponsors to support them during their time in Ireland.