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Asylum seekers living in Ireland more than five years should be given "special amnesty"

Former judge Bryan McMahon says such a move would be “in the spirit of the ideals of 1916″, but would require “political will”.

Updated 14.05

THE HEAD OF a working group into the refugee process in Ireland has called for all those who have been seeking asylum here for more than five years to be granted “some kind of special amnesty” to enable them to leave Direct Provision.

Former High Court judge Bryan McMahon made the suggestion at the launch today of an analysis of how well that working group’s 173 recommendations regarding Ireland’s asylum system have been implemented.

20160427_113913 Former judge Bryan McMahon (second from right) at today's launch Source: TheJournal.ie/Cianan Brennan

McMahon said such a move would be in the spirit of the “ideals of those who signed the proclamation in 1916″.

“It might be a bold innovation, but sometimes you have to do the bold thing, the courageous thing,” he said.

There are in the region of 3,500 such asylum-seekers who have been living in Direct Provision here for greater than five years.

“The arguments against it are a pull factor, and precedent,” McMahon said.

Well if this was a one-off there can be no question of a pull factor, and if it is done in the spirit of 1916 we don’t have to worry about precedent because it won’t have to happen again for another 100 years.
If we are to clear the backlog in the system, there has to be a wiping clean of the slates.
It would take a certain courage to do it, and you would need a political will. Well with the formation of a new government perhaps that will can be found.

McMahon said that having presided over Ireland’s latest citizenship ceremony yesterday, he has now been present for the induction of 98,000 new citizens into Ireland.

“We are a very welcoming people, that much is clear. So the contrast between these not-unrelated situations is stark. Anyone who has been to the centres and seen the human side of this can attest,” he said.

These people are like ghosts. They are dehumanised and they are depressed.

He said that regardless of whether his suggestion of an amnesty might come to pass, he “knows for certain” that the Irish people would accept it.

The former judge likewise bemoaned the fact that asylum-seekers in Ireland are still not allowed to access the labour market, something that sees us falling short of the norm in European countries.

“Taking my legal hat off now, this is absolutely heartbreaking. It is immoral. We need to give these people back the dignity of being able to do a day’s work and face their families afterwards,” he said.

The facts

The realities of Direct Provision in Ireland were laid bare at the publication this morning of an analysis of how the Working Group’s 173 recommendations from June last year have been implemented.

That analysis was conducted by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and is contained in the latest edition of its periodical Working Notes. The group’s findings suggest that the situation regarding Direct Provision here has not improved in the interim “in any meaningful way”.

Some of the many points noted in the analysis are:

  • No allowance has been made for asylum-seekers to be allowed to access the work force after nine months as recommended
  • A proposal to restore the value of the adult weekly Direct Provision allowance, the only welfare payment not to be increased since it was introduced in 2000, has been overlooked (it remains €19.10 weekly)
  • The living conditions of those living in Direct Provision (almost 5,000 people, one quarter of whom are children) have not improved “in any meaningful way”
  • The average processing time for first instance refugee applications has doubled from 15 to 30 weeks
  • The average processing time for refugee appeals has increased from 49 to 70 weeks
  • It had been hoped to reduce the average time for processing an asylum application to 12 months. In fact that average has increased to two years from 15 months.
  • The asylum process has been reduced from three strands to one as recommended. However this move is expected to “exacerbate delays” in the near term
  • There has been some good news – 1,384 people who had been in the system for more than five years had their situation resolved last year, compared to just 700 in 2014. This is seen as a de facto implementation of the recommendation that anyone in the system for more than five years should be granted a protection status or leave to remain within six months

“Ten months on, implementation of key recommendations has been slow and inadequately resourced,” said McMahon.

The progress in resolving the situation of those more than five years in the system is most welcome yet considerable work remains to be done to ensure all who could benefit will.
Most worryingly delays are again growing significantly at the earlier stages in the protection process.

Torture

At today’s conference TheJournal.ie spoke to Ellie Kisyombe, a native of southern Africa, who has been living in the Direct Provision system for the past six-and-a-half years.

Ellie, who lives in a centre in Dublin, describes her situation as “really hard, depressing”.

20160427_104121 Ellie Kisyombe Source: Cianan Brennan/TheJournal.ie

“I don’t feel good about it, it’s a situation that isn’t right for any human being to live in, any refugee or asylum seeker,” she said.

Although Ellie has been in the Irish asylum system for many years, she has only just been joined in recent months by her daughter.

“Unfortunately my son has failed in many attempts to join me here,” she said.

She isn’t hopeful that her situation is likely to get better anytime soon.

“I’m not hopeful because change isn’t going to come soon, but I will keep pushing,” she said.

Until the working group came out nothing whatsoever was being done, now at least there has been some movement.
But how can you move people when they don’t have a proper place to live, or a happy life? We are just a scapegoat of where the government tried to fool people like me that they are moving on this.

Regarding her own asylum application, Ellie says she “tries not to think about it”.

I don’t think about it, because it’s a torture – it’s very traumatising.
When you see what the people in my community go through every day, thinking about my status is just going to make me feel a hundred times worse. I need to keep going and to try and find ways to be able to cope.

Earlier

Today’s conference revealed that of 173 recommendations made by the Working Group on the Protection Process regarding problems with Ireland’s asylum rules, most have been partially implemented at best, while many have not been implemented at all.

Currently almost 5,000 people are living in Direct Provision in Ireland, at 35 centres around the country.

The standard of living conditions at those centres  varies wildly around the country according to the Irish Immigrant Support Centre (NASC).

One of the key recommendations of the report – that cases in which people had been living in Direct Provision for more than five years be resolved as priority has so far only been partially implemented.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Eugene Quinn, national director of the JRS who also sat on the Working Group, spoke of the various shortcomings in implementing the recommendations made last year.

He said communal kitchens, a priority recommendation, have not been implemented meaning people in Direct Provision do not prepare family meals.

The provision of extra living space to enable asylum-seekers to live with greater dignity has yet to happen.

Likewise, the failure to grant those living in Direct Provision access to Ireland’s labour market has been a disappointment, with Quinn describing the “long-term human cost” to those in this situation.

The majority of asylum seekers currently spend three years in Direct Provision in Ireland, although many people have been waiting for seven years or more.

First published 9.53am

Read: Ireland deported or removed 3,800 people last year

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