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Reforms in asylum process "not a cure-all"

The Irish Refugee Council has said that the proposed Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill does not address the reasons for Ireland’s low rate of acceptance for protection applicants.

File: Sergio Magliocco protests outside the Garda National Immigration Bureau in Dublin today over a planned mass deportation of Nigerian immigrants in 2009
File: Sergio Magliocco protests outside the Garda National Immigration Bureau in Dublin today over a planned mass deportation of Nigerian immigrants in 2009

THE REFORMS IN THE proposed Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill are not a “cure-all”, the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) has said.

The latest figures released show “a very low acceptance rate for those claiming subsidiary protection and very long delays from application to decision” it said this week.

Asylum and Subsidiary Protection

According to written responses to parliamentary questions on the numbers of applicants granted international protection, other than asylum, just 1.9 per cent of applicants were granted subsidiary protection between 2008 and 2011.  Meanwhile, 3,096 applicants have been in the asylum process for three or more years and 272 people have been waiting for more than seven years.

Sue Conlan, Chief Executive of the IRC said:

The reforms proposed in the most recent version of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill do not address the wider reasons for Ireland’s exceptionally low rate of acceptance for protection applicants, both for asylum and subsidiary protection.

She said the small numbers granted subsidiary protection “signal that there is something wrong in the system for considering protection claims that will not be solved by introducing a single protection procedure, in which both asylum and subsidiary protection applications can be considered together”.

We need to focus on creating  procedures that enable the applicant and the decision maker to have a real opportunity to set out thorough and accurate applications at the start of the protection process.  In addition, we need an appeals system that is genuinely independent, robust and transparent.

The IRC proposes the introduction of early legal advice for applicants and an appeals mechanism which would reduce the reliance on costly High Court proceedings.

Proposals for reform of the asylum system have been underway for over 10 years and the most recent version, the IRP Bill 2010, has been set aside. The Minister for Justice has stated that a revised bill will be introduced to the Oireachtas at an early date.

Reforms

The main reforms proposed for the area of protection are the introduction of a single protection procedure and a revised tribunal which would hear appeals against decisions to refuse asylum and subsidiary protection.  At present, there is no appeal against a refusal to grant subsidiary protection.

The huge delays in the Irish protection system mean years waiting in limbo for applicants. These delays create huge problems for the people in the system and needless costs for the taxpayers as applicants are not allowed to work and are accommodated by the State in Direct Provision centres.  The Bill will not address the situation of the thousands of people still living in Direct Provision accommodation.

Cost of direct provision has dropped between 2008 and 2010, when the latest figures are available. In 2008, it was €91.472m; in 2009 it was €86.509m and in 2010 it was €79.073m.

Decisions

“There needs to be some administrative decision taken – what are you going to do with the thousands not affected by the Bill?” said Conlon.

What needs to happen is the Dept of Justice needs to look realistically at whether it is appropriate to continue to push for someone’s deportation when they have been left in the situation for so long.

Some groups, said Conlon, are looking for earned regularisation, where the government looks at the commitment of those awaiting deportation, such as whether they have children who were born in Ireland and being brought up here.

The idea has not been formerly raised by the IRC, but Conlon said that other countries have shown that if you regulate the status, people become taxpayers or potential taxpayers.

In limbo

“Being in limbo is something very difficult to explain unless you have lived in it, said Conlon. She said a woman who had been in the situation for seven years and had three children born in Ireland told her she was “like a robot”. “She was told where to go, almost told what to do or what to eat,” said Conlon.

It begins to take its toll on people’s ability to function properly and be part of the community. If they do get permission to stay they can find it very hard to adapt and get on with life.

They have “effectively been institutionalised” she said, adding that those awaiting deportation are constantly waiting for the “knock on the door”.

It is not an ideal situation. It affects mental health in particular; it affects ability to function.

People have three weeks to leave aslyum and are then on to social welfare housing. “People that work with those people say they are finding [they] are de-skilled and demotivated,” said Conlon.

Conlon added that it is a question of priorities for the government, and as the number of people claiming asylum is dropping it may be seen as a case of “applying money where very few will benefit”. However, the IRC said: “What we are saying is, you can spend less money and do it better”.

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