Asylum-seekers and their children have spent years living in an institutional setting that was designed to be a short-term solution. They are accommodated by the state in residential institutions, under a system known as “Direct Provision.” Direct Provision is intended to provide for the welfare of asylum seekers and their families as they await decisions on their asylum application. It provides essential services, medical care and accommodation and board with three meals a day provided at set times. The standards of accommodation and living conditions vary widely in the 35 centres around the country.
Ireland’s policy on refugees and asylum seekers is governed by the Refugee Act 1996. Ireland also participates in all EU Directives on asylum except Directive 2003/9/EC, commonly referred to as the ‘Reception Directive’. The Reception Directive would entail allowing asylum seekers access to the labour market which the Irish State is not willing to grant. In March 2013, Ireland also opted out of participating in legal revisions for the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) on this basis, despite this being the practice in all other EU States bar Denmark.
Issues of concern
- The majority of asylum seekers spend 3 years in Direct Provision, with a significant number of people waiting for 7 years or more. The current unwieldy Irish protection system structurally ensures years of living within the Direct Provision system through no fault on the applicants’ behalf.
- The lives of residents are governed by unnecessarily restrictive rules. For example, having to eat in a canteen at certain times and not being allowed to cook or to have food in one’s room.
- Lack of privacy is a significant issue. Single residents share a room with several other adults, and parents live in one room with their children. Facilities such as bathrooms are often shared.
- Residents do not have access to an independent complaints mechanism. If an issue affecting a resident’s security or health and welfare arises then the resident has no option but to raise it first with the management of the individual centre and then with the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA). Asylum-seekers are reluctant to complain because of the possibility of retaliation from management or that it may negatively impact their relationship with the Department of Justice.
- The health needs of residents are not safeguarded. Despite the fact that the state has a duty of care in respect of the health and welfare of residents, the Department of Health & Children has no role in the management of the system.
Campaigning on Direct Provision
Nasc has campaigned about the conditions in direct provision since the inception of the system in 2000. For more information about the history of the direct provision system and Nasc’s work in the past, download our 2008 publication ‘Hidden Cork‘.
Nasc advocates the replacement of the current protection system with a ‘single procedures mechanism’. Under this, the three forms of international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection and leave to remain on humanitarian grounds) would be reviewed concurrently. As all challenges to decisions must currently be made through judicial review to the High Court, this would significantly reduce the burden on the State, the courts and also shorten the length of time spent living under the Direct Provision system.
Nasc also advocates that Ireland becomes a signatory to the ‘Reception Directive’. The current system forces asylum seekers into complete dependency on the State and without the ability to remove themselves from the Direct Provision system. As the EU further develops the Common European Asylum System, Ireland’s stance on this issue will become increasingly out of step with our European counterparts.
Though these two steps will not eliminate the many issues with our current asylum and protection system, they are viable steps that can be taken in the near future with significant benefits. See our recent article in the Evening Echo for more on Nasc’s campaigning on direct provision.
The NGO Forum on Direct Provision: Protecting the health and welfare of protection applicants housed in residential institutions in Ireland.
Nasc is a founder member of the NGO Forum on Direct Provision. The Forum is a network of member organisations who are committed to campaigning for changes that will protect the health and welfare of asylum-seekers and their children housed in residential institutions here.
The Forum was formed early in 2010. It originated in a group that met for many years as the Direct Provision Sub-Committee of Integrating Ireland, to share experiences in advocating with the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) on behalf of the residents in its care. After many years, the members concluded that the requests and complaints of the residents, even when supported by advocates from migrant NGOs, the medical profession and social workers, etc, were falling on deaf ears. We concluded that the only option open to us as advocates was to campaign for change.
The current members of the Forum include: AkiDwA, Barnardos, BeLonG To LGBT Youth Services, Crosscare Migrant Project, Cultúr, Doras Luimní, FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), Galway Refugee Support Group, Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference Refugee & Migrant Project, The Integration Centre, The Irish Refugee Council, The Jesuit Refugee Service, Mayo Intercultural Action, SPIRASI, and Tralee International Resource Centre.
The members of the NGO Forum on Direct Provision believe that the system of so-called “direct provision” has an unconscionable human cost. We believe that long-term institutionalisation is harmful to asylum seekers, to their children, and to Irish society. The Forum is seeking the introduction of an alternative to the system during the lifetime of the new coalition government. The Forum campaigns for an independent complaints mechanism. The group has welcomed a commitment in the programme for government to expand the remit of the Office of the Ombudsman to include asylum seekers, and it is committed to ensuring that the change remains a political priority.
The Forum has also asked the Minister for Justice to realise commitments made when Fine Gael was in Opposition, when he stated that:
“The direct provision system was introduced as a cost saving for the State in the context of the amount spent on social welfare. The manner in which it operates should be subject to a fundamental review. I hope within the next two years, or preferably in the next six months, we will see Fine Gael in government. That review should take place and we need to see if there is a better way to deal with people.”
The Forum welcomes new member organisations. If you would like more information about the NGO Forum, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Individuals who wish to support the campaign can help too, by visiting your local TD to ask him or her to support the calls for change described above.
‘End Insitutional Living’ campaign
In April 2013, the Irish Refugee Council coordinated a national day of action to launch the ‘End Institutional Living’ campaign. This campaign calls for an end to Direct Provision and its replacement with a fair and efficient system that ensures the welfare of asylum seekers in Ireland. Actions took place in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Tralee, Castlebar and Limerick. In Cork, over 150 asylum seekers and supporters took part in a rally in Cork City centre, organised and supported in conjunction with the Irish Refugee Council and Nasc. A letter and email campaign directed at Cork TDs Kathleen Lynch and David Stanton was also launched alongside a national petition.