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Dublin: 15 °C Sunday 24 May, 2020

Fianna Fáil's O'Callaghan calls on Justice Department to explore fostering for asylum seekers

There are currently over 6,000 people living in Direct Provision.

fianna-fail Fianna Fáil Justice and Equality spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan. Source: Sam Boal/

FIANNA FÁIL’S JUSTICE spokesperson has called for the Department of Justice & Equality to develop a fostering programme for asylum seekers to relieve pressure on Ireland’s Direct Provison system. 

In addition to the 6,000 people living in 38 Direct Provision centres around Ireland, almost 1,400 people are being accommodated in hotels and B&Bs. 

Since September 2018, over €14 million has been spent on emergency accommodation. 

In the past year, two arson attacks in Moville, Co Donegal and Rooskey, Co Roscommon have put paid to the Department’s plans to open further Direct Provision centres. 

Following continued protests in Oughterard, Co Galway last week, a tender was withdrawn for the Connemara Gateway Hotel which was set to accommodate 200 asylum seekers. 

TD Jim O’Callaghan has said these recent incidents “make the Direct Provision system more problematic and more complicated then it already was”. 

Public procurement difficulties experienced by RIA alongside issues for Direct Provision residents finding suitable accommodation in the rental sector once granted leave-to-remain, has forced RIA to contract hotels and B&Bs. 

O’Callaghan told that, in addition to the State owning properties to accommodated asylum seekers, the Department of Justice & Equality should shift policy to assess the possibility of a fostering system for international protection applicants. 

“Let’s look at the opposition to Direct Provision. One of the arguments is that keeping people there for long periods of time is inhumane. I agree with that,” O’Callaghan said. 

“One of the benefits of a fostering system is that people could be brought into family units, they wouldn’t be concentrated in one or two areas like in Oughterard.”

O’Callaghan has said that fostering could alleviate pressure on Ireland’s asylum system and should be examined in the context of Ireland’s foster system whereby foster families are paid €325 for children under 12 and €352 per week over 12.

This payment is designed to cover food, clothing, basic travel, household bills, education costs and everyday living.

“It could be an incentive for people to take in families. A lot of Irish people are well-intentioned but also they’d get a financial return for it,” O’Callaghan said.

“It could be terminated by the [family] at any stage. I don’t know how many people would go for it but you could have situation people could come in, they wouldn’t be concentrated in one area,” O’Callaghan. 

Any system would need to be “closely scrutinised so you don’t have people taking advantage”, O’Callaghan said, and subject to garda vetting. 

There could also be situations suitable to providing accommodation for single males and females, said O’Callaghan, who said that families would not be separated under this model. 

“It would obviously be voluntary,” he said. 

‘Community Sponsorship’ 

There is distinction in law between a refugee and an international protection applicant – or asylum seeker.

The government – separate to Direct Provision – already has a mechanism for refugee resettlement through community sponsorship. 

Following the European migrant crisis in 2015, the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established.

In late 2018, Community Sponsorship Ireland (CSI) was set up under the programme. The scheme is a complementary resettlement stream as opposed to the traditional state-centred model for refugees. 

“The unique feature of the programme is to provide private citizens and community based organisations an opportunity to directly support a refugee family,” a Department spokesperson has said. 

“Involved community groups assist the family in accessing services and provide not only supports, but most importantly friendship and a welcome.”

As part of the pilot phase, five refugee families – 17 people – have been facilitated by Community Sponsorship groups in five towns around Ireland. 

The pilot phase of the programme is currently being reviewed, the spokesperson added, and a decision on whether to establish Community Sponsorship as a national programme is expected over the coming weeks.  

Community sponsorship programmes for refugees were first rolled out in Canada in the 1970s before they were introduced in the UK and Ireland. 

Migrants rights centre Nasc is a Regional Support Organisation which assist community groups with their applications to resettle refugees, liaise with the DOJ and provide the training for the community groups. 

Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc, told that on entering the country the families all have refugee status and “all the benefits that brings with it”. 

“The community groups go through a rigorous application process, oftentimes taking months to complete training, raise funds and source suitable accommodation,” Finn said. 

“It’s a very significant and serious commitment on the part of the groups who choose to do this,” she added. 

Each family is accommodated in their own property following community network engagement. 

The department points out that the IRPP must be distinguished from a situation where international protection applicants spontaneously arrive in the State seeking international protection.

“The current pressures experienced by RIA largely arise from a sharp increase in the number of spontaneous international protection applicants seeking asylum in Ireland,” the spokesperson said. 

The IRPP – supported by the Irish Red Cross – essentially brings in refugees who are registered with the UN Refugee Agency through a government-approved pathway. 

‘A Stigma’

Fianna Fáil’s O’Callaghan says that, following the tender withdrawal in Oughterard, “we need to have another avenue whereby people can be accommodated”. 

“There’s a bit of a lack of awareness out there about Direct Provision. We’ve a responsibility, an international obligation…to provide international protection to genuine asylum seekers.”

“When people say we need abolish Direct Provision we need to recognise those people have to be given accommodation,” O’Callaghan said. 

He says that an expanded fostering system for asylum seekers “needs to be done on a central, organised basis by the Department”. 

“Ultimately it’s a policy decision. There’s a benefit in the State speeding up the whole process,” he said. 

It’s worthwhile seeing if there are expressions of interest.

Finn of Nasc said that elements of consultation and planning involved in Community Sponsorship “could certainly be replicated in planning accommodation for asylum seekers.”

“It is really important that we have a discussion about alternatives to Direct Provision and how we can move to a more sustainable model of accommodation-provision for asylum seekers. We are glad to see that conversation moving to the mainstream,” Finn added. 

However, under Irish and EU law, the Irish State has a legal obligation to provide accommodation for asylum seekers and “we would be concerned if that obligation was outsourced to communities,” she said. 

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