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Opinion: Asylum seekers with disabilities are largely invisible in an already difficult system

Asylum seekers with disabilities in Direct Provision must be afforded equal rights when compared to people with disabilities outside Direct Provision, Keelin Barry writes.

Keelin Barry Keelin Barry is an Irish Research Council PhD candidate at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

ASYLUM SEEKERS WITH disabilities in Direct Provision are largely invisible in the Irish International Protection System, the Irish disability sector and in wider Irish society as a whole. 

Both adults and children with disabilities living in Direct Provision can face additional and specific barriers, access issues, stigma and disability discrimination that compound the difficulties of navigating Direct Provision. Individuals with less visible or invisible disabilities are at an increased risk of exclusion. 

There are two legal instruments which should, in theory, offer some specific protections to asylum seekers with disabilities living in Direct Provision. 

The EU Recast Reception Conditions Directive, which was adopted in 2018 into Irish legislation called the European Communities (Reception Conditions). This legislation includes a legal requirement for the Irish State to develop a vulnerability assessment tool for certain groups of asylum seekers that are listed as “vulnerable”, which includes people with disabilities. 

The vulnerability assessment is legally required within thirty days after an international protection claim has been lodged. There was a delay of two and a half years in the development of the vulnerability assessment tool, which directly limited the rights of asylum seekers with disabilities to be assessed and potentially denied access to reasonable accommodations. In January 2021, the Government announced it was piloting a vulnerability assessment tool at the Balseskin Reception Centre in Dublin. 

In February 2021 the vulnerability assessment tool was extended to all new protection applicants. The Irish Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for Disability Law and Policy made a submission  in April 2021 to the Government to raise concerns about the need for a specific ‘disability lens’ to be applied to the vulnerability assessment pilot. It is now nine months since the pilot began, and questions about the rights of persons with disabilities living in Direct Provision remain unanswered.

The initial reception period is a heightened time of transition and stress where persons with disabilities may not be able to self-disclose their disability.

Newly-arrived asylum seekers with disabilities may worry that disclosing their disability may have a negative impact on their international protection applications. In addition, they may have experienced traumatic events that may have been the cause of their disability, including being survivors of trafficking or torture.

Some individuals may have recently acquired disabilities and discussing the details may be difficult, especially in the initial reception stage. Therefore, it is critical that asylum seekers can access the vulnerability assessment tool after this initial reception stage. 

Most importantly, access to the vulnerability assessment tool should be made available retroactively and immediately to those currently living outside the Balseskin Reception Centre in Direct Provision as a matter of urgency.

It is currently unclear when the vulnerability assessment tool will be made available to persons living outside of the Balseskin Reception Centre. 

Ireland ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2018 and is due to present its first report on it in late 2021.

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The Irish Centre for Human Rights lodged a submission to the Government regarding asylum seekers with disabilities living in Direct Provision in April 2021. It recommended specific attention be paid to the needs of this particularly vulnerable group of disabled people in Ireland in the Draft Initial State Report.

However, there was no mention of the situation of asylum seekers with disabilities living in Direct Provision in any section of the Draft State Report. This omission needs to be remedied in the final State Report on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  

All persons with disabilities living in Direct Provision should have equal access and protection under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as equal rights holders when compared to other persons with disabilities living outside of the Direct Provision system.

Questions remain regarding the pilot of the vulnerability assessment tool including how long the vulnerability assessment ‘pilot’ will continue, what the processes of the vulnerability assessment are, by what date the pilot will be concluded, and by what date the vulnerability assessment tool will be implemented across all Direct Provision and Emergency Accommodation Centres? 

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

About the author:

Keelin Barry  / Keelin Barry is an Irish Research Council PhD candidate at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

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