Leo Varadkar and Rishi Sunak hold talks on Immigration during European Political Community Summit

Image Credit: RTE

Andrew Longo breaks down the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister’s responses to the increased immigration rates to Europe following the European political security summit in Granada, Spain.

On October 5th, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sat down for historical talks. The meeting was part of a larger summit of European leaders, which took place in Grenada, Spain. The Taoiseach and Prime Minister came out of their meeting with a commitment to work together on combating high migration rates between their two countries. Immigration in the region is bolstered by the Common Travel Area (CTA), an agreement which guarantees citizens free travel between the UK and Ireland. The deal, which has existed since the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, has since slowly been incorporated into official legislation over time and was reaffirmed in 2019 with the Memorandum of Understanding. Still, the CTA has become a double-edged sword for the UK, which partly left the European Union so that it would not be forced to accept migrants from the rest of Europe. 

Ireland is facing a crisis due to a massive increase in the number of migrants arriving on its shores. The country has received around 141,600 immigrants between April 2022 and April 2023, the highest number in over a decade. Many find an overwhelmed system that can no longer support its ever-growing population. Migrants are often forced to live in makeshift encampments where they face insufficient food and a weekly stipend of €38.80 per adult and €29.80 per child. The current jobs market and tight government regulation on working permits make finding a job as a foreign arrival in Ireland beyond difficult. According to the Department of Justice, non-EEA/non-Swiss nationals must simply procure an employment permit or atypical permission to hold a paid position in Ireland. An additional visa may also be required depending on the individual’s nationality. 

With many migrants unable to find work and forced to live in established camps or on the streets, they are often viewed as criminals. It is all part of what can only be described as a growing ‘anti-immigration’ movement in Ireland. Migrants are blamed for high crime and other public disruptions, but recent data shows this may not be entirely true. In a statement from March, the Garda headquarters said, “Notwithstanding isolated local incidents, An Garda Síochána has not recorded any significant increase in criminal activity or public order issues directly caused by international protection applicants at this time.” 

With many migrants unable to find work and being forced to live in either established camps or on the streets, they are often viewed as criminals. 

Still, Garda reports have not been successful in reducing the stigma surrounding migrants; in fact, the anti-immigration movement seems to be stronger than ever. The Gardaí reported 73 anti-immigration protests in Dublin alone during eight weeks at the start of 2023. In what can be considered one of the most violent acts of anti-immigration demonstration this year, a refugee camp in Dublin was attacked and set on fire following a clash between anti and pro-immigration groups on May 12th. Hate towards immigrant groups is fueled by the common misconception that they only come to the country to ‘leech’ off the system and collect as much welfare as possible. Often, anti-immigration protests call for migrants to ‘go home’, saying they ‘don’t want to pay for them’. Despite increasingly violent demonstrations, the Garda has repeatedly denied an increase in far-right extremism. 

The EU has recently announced its new Migration Pact, which states that EU countries will be fined for not accepting a certain quota of migrants. In response to the new immigration policy, Taoiseach Varadkar has said, “We're in a different place as a country now. [We're] struggling to accommodate the numbers that we have.” In other words, Ireland will not be accepting its quota of migrants in the coming year, a decision which will undoubtedly relieve the United Kingdom. This choice is estimated to cost Ireland €20,000 per migrant they deny.

'We're in a different place as a country now. [We're] really struggling to accommodate the numbers that we have.'  - Taoiseach Varadkar