The Irish Refugee Council (IRC) launched a report on alternatives to Ireland’s reception system for asylum seekers, known as ‘Direct Provision’. The report shows that there is an urgent need for an alternative reception system for asylum seekers that is both humane and reduces the financial burden on the state.
In order to replace the current ‘Direct Provision’ system that prohibits asylum seekers from working and provides full board accommodation and a weekly allowance of €19.10/adult and €9.60/child, the IRC recommends that after a maximum period of six months, asylum seekers should be allowed to work and transferred to independent living in order to avoid “institutionalisation, dependency on the state and the damaging effects on long-term employment or integration prospects”.
The IRC stressed that the provision of reception conditions must be based on the respect for family life and consideration should be given to the best interests of the child, “with parents being given the opportunity to parent in as self-contained as a family unit as possible”. Furthermore, the IRC emphasised the need for the establishment of an independent complaints and inspection mechanism. Due to lack of independent oversight of the system at present, asylum seekers are discouraged from interacting with inspectors and are afraid to complain about intimidation and harassment by staff members in Direct Provision centres, fearing acts of retaliation (e.g. transfer to another centre).
The IRC also stressed the importance of the provision of early legal advice, which will reduce “the cost (human and financial) of a person challenging a poorly presented or wrongly determined decision”.
Direct Provision centres are funded by the Irish State and run by private contractors on a for-profit basis. A letter from the Department of Justice and Equality revealed that in the period between 2000 and 2010, private businesses running Direct Provision centres have achieved an estimated €655 million turnover. Direct Provision was envisaged for a six month period; however, most residents have been in the system for over three years, with some for more than seven years. Sue Conlan, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, noted that due to the fact asylum seekers are prohibited from working while their applications are being processed, it is extremely difficult for asylum seekers to be self-sufficient, i.e. be independent of social welfare, which ironically in the end adds to the costs of the maintenance of the Direct Provision system.
Lassane Ouedraogo, a former asylum seeker and member of a campaign to end Direct Provision, refers to Direct Provision centres as open prisons: “You are not allowed to do anything. You are not allowed to work, you are not allowed to study […], just sleep, eat, and sit in the open prison. […] I know people who have lived there for 10 or 11 years and are still waiting. […] If you have a complaint, […] there is no independent complaining system; those you are complaining about, is the same people you are complaining to”.
Northern Ireland’s High Court ruled in its recent judgment in ALJ and A, B and C that it would not be in the best interests of the child to transfer a mother and child from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland under the Dublin regulation due to the conditions the child would face in Direct Provision.
Justice Catherine McGuinness emphasised at the report’s launch that children should not be “growing up in an environment where the risk is that they fail to thrive, with unknown consequences for the future.” The IRC quoted Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, in the report, who raised concerns about the detrimental effect of Direct Provision on children and on their parents’ ability to provide adequate care, amounting to institutionalised poverty.
Ireland has opted out of the recast Reception Conditions Directive, which provides for minimum standards for reception conditions and allows asylum seekers conditional access to Member States’ employment markets within nine months of lodging their applications.