“Giorgi”, who does not want his real name published, arrived in Ireland with his wife and two young children in May 2022.
He worked as a sound engineer in Tbilisi and said he decided to leave Georgia to escape pressure from the authorities for allegedly helping to stage pro-opposition events. He is “apolitical” and never had any intention of assisting any party in a country that is deeply divided along political lines, he said.
“It’s hard for Georgians to get to Ireland because you need a visa, not like Schengen zone countries such as Germany or Spain,” he said, referring to the border-free travel area covering much of Europe.
“I decided to go to Ireland because people told me life was good there, and I really liked what I read about the country and the Irish people. And I thought that if it would be hard for me to get there, then it would also be hard for anyone trying to find me.”
Giorgi and his family flew into Dublin from Spain. He said the airport or airline staff at the boarding gate did not seem to know the relevant immigration rules and apparently believed his assertion that he and his family, who were carrying very little luggage, were only going to Ireland for a short holiday.
On arrival at Dublin airport, he claimed asylum. Before doing so he destroyed his family’s passports, which many asylum seekers do to make it harder for the authorities to assess their application, and so buy time in the country.
“People had told me that we shouldn’t have our passports with us, because they could send us back straight away,” said Giorgi, who is 40 years old.
He thought that given his case, claiming asylum on the grounds of persecution, that the State would permit him to stay but, travelling with small children, he could not take the risk of immediate expulsion.
The family was treated “very well” at Dublin airport, but when they were taken to the so-called transit hub at Citywest in west Dublin, “it became a nightmare, it was real hell,” he said.
“There were lots of people there and no beds for us. Everything was for Ukrainians; it was like other people didn’t exist. My children [aged five and two] slept on the floor, on the concrete. Then a man gave us four pillows, so the children slept on those. But there were no beds for me and my wife,” he said.
On the family’s sixth day in Ireland, they were moved to a hotel in Dublin.
Giorgi said it was better than Citywest, but one room was cramped for the four of them and they were not allowed to cook their own food and most of the meals provided were not good for the children.
After about six months, Giorgi received permission to work in Ireland and found a job on a building site, earning between about €600 and €750 per week depending on how much overtime he was given.
“I was lucky because the guys I worked with were really good. There were two Poles and a Romanian and the rest of them were Irish. I was the only Georgian. They saw that I worked well and didn’t drink,” he said.
“It was very different from my profession of sound engineer, but friends taught me what to do and I had to learn.”
Giorgi remembers it as probably his best time in Ireland despite the difficulties of the hotel accommodation, because his wages – in addition to benefits of €137 per week for the family – gave them enough to live on and allowed them to save some money.
After about nine months in Ireland, however, they were moved to an accommodation centre near Athlone where asylum seekers were housed in portacabins. Giorgi said the one allocated to his family was filthy and took a week for them to clean.
The enforced move meant Giorgi had to set off at 5am to drive to work in Dublin and would get home from the building site no earlier than 7pm. Petrol costs also roughly halved his take-home wage, he said.
The strain began to affect the family’s health, particularly in summer when the Portakabin was stifling and Giorgi decided it was time to return home.
Colleagues in Georgia assured him that he no longer faced possible legal threats over his work as a sound engineer and the family flew back to Tbilisi in August after spending 15 months in Ireland.
“Thankfully I’ve had no problems so far, but I refuse work if I think it might be an opposition or government event. So I’m only doing corporate events and weddings, things like that. I’m also working in a restaurant,” he said.
“Overall, I’m glad we came back. I’m sorting out my health problems and the children are in school. But it’s not great here; I’m still working just to survive, to feed the family,” he adds, estimating his total monthly earnings at about 1,000 Georgian lari (€337).
“If I don’t have any (legal) problems and I can make a decent living, then I won’t move abroad again. But I’m afraid we won’t be able to live normally if I can only do these small events. I need to do big concerts, but at the moment I’m turning down that work because I’m afraid it could be political,” Giorgi explains.
Giorgi and his family returned home with help from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which assisted with travel expenses and a grant that he spent on new sound mixing equipment.
Rusudan Imnaishvili, IOM Georgia’s national programme officer and assisted voluntary return and reintegration programme co-ordinator, said most migration from the country is driven by a search for better job opportunities, although the number of Georgians travelling to the EU to seek medical treatment has also grown in recent years.
“From our programmes we have only one person who received post-arrival medical support on return from Ireland. All the rest have been travelling to Ireland for work, basically, to seek a job. And then, probably because they didn’t get what they expected … they have returned home,” she said.
Those returning from Ireland are offered a “reintegration grant” of about €1,000 per person, which can be spent training and equipment.
About 16 per cent of Georgia’s 3.7 million population live below the poverty line. Economic pressure has increased with the arrival of tens of thousands of Russians and Ukrainians in Georgia following the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which has driven up prices for housing and other essentials.
“Those who don’t benefit from the flow of Russian people spending money in Georgia – and many people do, to a certain extent – cannot cope with the rising price levels and it is another element that adds to their decision-making to possibly go abroad,” said Marc Hulst, programme co-ordinator at IOM Georgia.
He noted that the Covid pandemic also took a heavy financial toll on many Georgians.
Growth in the number of Georgians seeking asylum in EU states has made irregular migration a significant issue in relations between Tbilisi and Brussels, ahead of a looming decision in December on whether Georgia should become an official candidate for membership.
“The overwhelming majority of these people come [to EU states] for economic reasons. And especially the reason they are applying for asylum in Ireland is that Ireland does not have a visa-free regime with Georgia. So the only way a Georgian citizen can stay in Ireland is to apply for asylum,” said Nikoloz Samkharadze, chairman of the foreign relations committee in Georgia’s parliament and a senior member of the ruling Georgian Dream party.
“We have discussed with the Irish authorities the need to come up with a scheme for these people to have opportunities for legal work in Ireland, because we know there are certain vacancies in Ireland that could be filled by Georgian citizens.”
Georgia has agreed so-called circular migration schemes with some EU states that allows migrants to work legally for several months and then return home.
At the same time, more EU members are officially recognising Georgia as a “safe country of origin,” meaning they do regard its citizens as facing a major threat from persecution and can reject their asylum requests more quickly.
“If the labour market were opened for Georgian citizens, at least for circular migration of six or nine months, this would basically eradicate the problem of Georgians applying for asylum,” said Samkharadze.
“I was in Ireland in March and we started initial discussions on that, so it is already on the table.”
Georgia’s government has introduced additional document checks for Georgians flying to EU destinations to cut down on irregular migration, and officers from EU border agency Frontex are present in Georgian airports.
“I think (EU states) are generally happy with the level of co-operation,” said Samkharadze.
“Of course, we both see the problem and don’t hide from it. We understand that the number of asylum seekers is too high for Georgia and we need to work on this.
“We both understand that there is a problem that needs to be solved.”
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