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Here's what needs to be done to help asylum seekers in Ireland

A new report has called for the Direct Provision system to be overhauled.

Stephanie Nganga (5) and Tatiana Nganga (8) taking part at a Direct Provision protest last month.
Stephanie Nganga (5) and Tatiana Nganga (8) taking part at a Direct Provision protest last month.
Image: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

A NEW REPORT on the Direct Provision (DP) has recommended that no one should spend more than five years in the system and new asylum seekers should have a decision on their application within 12 months.

Over 3,600 asylum seekers live in DP centres and almost 1,500 have done so for five years or more.

A working group on reforming the system has made 173 recommendations. The main points include:

  • An increase in the weekly allowance from €19.10 to €38.74 for adults, and from €9.60 to €29.80 for children
  • Access to cooking facilities for all families, with ingredients provided by the accommodation manager, and their own private living space “in so far as practicable” by the end of 2016
  • Single adults (80% of whom are currently in shared bedrooms) should be able to apply for a single room after nine months and be offered one after 15 months, and should have the option of cooking for themselves
  • All protection applicants who have been waiting for a decision on their first instance application for nine months or more, and who have cooperated with the protection process, should be given access to the labour market – as is the norm in the EU – once the forthcoming International Protection Bill is implemented.
  • Student supports should be extended for third-level and post-Leaving Certificate courses to persons who are protection applicants or who are at the leave-to-remain stage, have been in the Irish school system for five years or more, and satisfy the relevant academic and other eligibility criteria.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said the report is the “first comprehensive assessment in 15 years of the Direct Provision and protection system”.

She said the government will study the recommendations and is “committed to tackling the lengthy delays”.

I think most Irish people would be concerned about the limbo situation that people have been in over a long period, over five years, up to nine years.

Fitzgerald said the cost implications of the report need to be examined.

Junior Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin noted that the DP system was introduced as “a temporary fix” 15 years ago. He said it is “particularly heartbreaking to meet children who are living behind walls” and “in limbo”.

‘Yes equality moment’

Ó Ríordáin noted that the number of DP centres has reduced from 60 to 34, but said more needs to be done.

The minister, one of the most prominent Yes campaigners in relation to the same-sex marriage referendum, described the opportunity to make changes to the system as a “Yes equality momenty”.

The report marks the culmination of six months work by a working group established by the ministers last October and chaired by former High Court Judge Dr Bryan McMahon.

Membership of the group included representatives from the UNHCR, non-governmental organisations, protection applicants, academia, and relevant government departments and offices.

For the report, people who live in DP shared their own thoughts on the system.

Here are some extracts:

The direct provision system has been prison to many people, undeservedly serving unending sentences.
People are made to feel like criminals whilst exercising their human right to seek refuge.
There is no dignity in living under Direct Provision … many adults are driven out of their minds, others have taken their own lives, and many more have seen their families fall apart because of inconsiderate mixing of families with singles.
I want someone to tell me or my daughters how long will I live like this or is ten years not enough?

Speaking at the launch today, Fitzgerald described DP as more than just a system.

“For thousands, direct provision represents their home and their community. For many, many children, direct provision is all they know of life and living.

“It is clear from reading this report that the successful implementation of key recommendations is dependent on the early enactment of the International Protection Bill. I have already published the heads of this important new Bill which will introduce a new streamlined and more effective single procedure for those applying for protection status.”

Child Safety concerns

Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, stated that the report highlights how DP is “responsible for a slew of child protection and safety gaps, including exposing children inappropriately to adult sexuality and increasing their risk of sexual abuse and grooming”.

The system alienates too many children from having a normal childhood and is the direct cause of many welfare concerns. On so many levels, direct provision grossly violates children’s precious rights. Direct Provision, as we know it, must now end.

The Jesuit Refugee Service of Ireland has also called on the government to fully implement recommendation as soon as possible.

Eugene Quinn, working group member and JRS Ireland National Director, said:

“Thousands of men, women and children have been ‘living in limbo’ with their lives on hold in the asylum system for too long. The long stayer solution recommended for persons more than five years in the system must be prioritised and delivered quickly to end their long wait.”

Read: Children moved from asylum centres after claims of inappropriate contact

Poll: Should long-term asylum seekers be allowed to work?

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