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Dublin: 14°C Tuesday 16 August 2022

Column: Ireland's treatment of asylum seekers is unfair - and bad value for money

Ireland has 6,740 asylum seekers living in an antiquated direct provision system that is not fit for purpose, write Gavan Titley and Ronit Lentin.

Gavan Titley

LAST MONTH SAW the launch of a new campaign, Anti Deportation Ireland (ADI), working to end all deportations, close down the inhumane direct provision system, and allow all asylum seekers to work.

In today’s Ireland 6,740 asylum-seekers live in 43 direct provision hostels, excluded from employment and education, enduring long, anxious waits for determination. According to the Department of Justice, almost half of asylum-seekers living in direct provision centres have been there for more than three years, and some have waited for more than five years for a decision. The United National Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern at the negative impact of life in direct provision, and particularly at the delay in determining asylum seekers’ cases.

In the last weeks, the Irish Refugee Council issued a report on ‘State Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion’ that concluded that many children – who comprise over a third of the asylum system’s population – are living in extreme poverty, in overcrowded accommodation, and with inadequate food. As the current struggle over the closure of Lisbrook House in Galway illustrates, the paucity of the living standards in accommodation centres is exacerbated by being subject to arbitrary dispersal from one part of the county to another.

Despite frequent claims that the direct provision system provides the best value for money, reported – based on figures published by the Minister of Justice – that the Irish State spent €69.5 million housing and ‘caring’ for asylum seekers in 2011, with the majority of funding used to pay for commercially owned hostels. FLAC (2003) argues that direct provision represents a departure from the normal Irish social welfare code and contravenes the Equal Status Act, even though the Act does not permit a challenge to government policies. In 2009 FLAC argued that the Department of Justice has created a ‘direct provision industry’, which makes a profit for commercial managements on the backs of asylum seekers, costing the Irish tax payers €70,892 per resident per annum in 2009 – a somewhat lower figure of €49.1 million per annum.

Deportation in Ireland

In a report investigating a ‘culture of disbelief’ among some decision-makers in the asylum determination process, the Irish Refugee Council noted that 135 people were accepted as refugees in Ireland last year. This amounts to less than half of the EU average, with UK acceptance rates four times that of Ireland. The human costs of physical and psychological isolation and socio-economic deprivation are amplified by the trauma of deportation and forcible removal. According to the Department of Justice, between 2005 and 2010 ‘only’ 1,413 people out of 5,943 with deportation orders were actually deported from Ireland, and in 2010 alone 572 were ‘voluntarily repatriated’.

Deportation is defended as necessary to the integrity of the state and its asylum and immigration system. However, there is a significant disparity between deportation orders issued and those effected, in a system with the lowest rate of acceptance in the EU. The Irish State continues to insist that its right to deport is a cornerstone of its immigration system. Responding to criticism of the deportation regime, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter has written in Metro Eireann that deportations remain ‘an unfortunate but necessary component of a balanced and fair immigration system… For the Irish State to relinquish its right of deportation, subject of course to our laws and to human rights obligations, would subvert the principles of fairness and due process which are cornerstones of our immigration system’

However, in most cases years can pass before all the legal routes are exhausted and a deportation order is issued. Once this happens, individuals become ‘deportable subjects’ and may be ordered to report to the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) in Dublin. There is very limited scope to challenge deportation decisions in Ireland because there is no independent appeals body.

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This can happen several times: on each occasion, people do not know whether or not they will actually be deported. In addition to this there are individuals living in the direct provision system who cannot be removed because judicial review is pending, they are parent of a child whose protection claim is outstanding, or they have no documents. According to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) officials, 400 people living within the direct provision system with deportation orders cannot be removed. This is deportability turned into a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Even though only a minority of those issued with deportation orders are actually deported, EU states, including Ireland, monitor neither the dangers faced by deportees on their return, nor the inhuman and degrading conditions under which people are deported, leading to several deaths in recent years.

It is clear that a situation this unjust and inhumane, that involves such vast expenditure while failing to ensure adequate standards of living, cannot continue in this form. Further analysis can be found in ADI’s report on the system here.

Ronit Lentin is associate professor in the Department of Sociology in TCD. Gavan Titley is lecturer in the School of English, Media and Theatre Studies in NUI Maynooth. They are both involved in the ADI campaign.

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