Campaign for Change

Direct Provision

People who arrive in Ireland seeking asylum or “international protection” (asylum seekers) are offered accommodation by the State in residential institutions, under a reception system known as ‘Direct Provision’. The State ‘directly provides’ essential services, including medical care, accommodation and board, along with a small weekly allowance. The Direct Provision system is overseen by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), a body of the Department of Justice. However, the majority of the centres around the country are privately owned and operated, and the standards of accommodation and living conditions vary widely.

Ireland’s policy on refugees and asylum seekers is governed by International Protection Act, 2015. In 2018, Ireland opted into the EU Reception Conditions Directive (recast) which provides minimum standards that all EU countries must adhere to in the reception of asylum seekers. In line with the Directive, asylum seekers who have been waiting over 9 months for a first instance decision on their asylum application now have access to the labour market through a Labour Market Access Permission.

Despite access the labour market and some improvements on foot of the publication of the McMahon Report (2015), the reality for many asylum seekers continues to be several years of limbo in institutionalized settings which are not appropriate for children or vulnerable adults. The length of time people wait for their applications to be assessed was a key area of consideration during the Working Group process, and remains the key area where very little improvement has been made. The length of time a person waits for a decision has a direct impact on their experience of direct provision.

Campaigning on Direct Provision

Nasc has campaigned against Direct Provision since the inception of the system in 2000. Nasc calls for the end of the ‘Direct Provision’ system and the introduction of a humane reception system in line with international best practice. For more information about the history of the direct provision system and Nasc’s work in the past, download our 2008 publication ‘Hidden Cork‘.

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End Institutionalised Living Day of Action, Cork 2013

Current Actions:

We continue to lobby for the full implementation of the recommendations of the Working Group on the Protection Process and Direct Provision, of which we believe just under half remain unimplemented or only partially implemented (see our 2017 Working Paper on the Implementation of the McMahon Report).

Our key actions include:

  • Calling on the Department of Justice to implement key recommendations in relation to asylum decision making, backlogs and wait times, including the formalization of the ‘5 year scheme’;
  • Membership on the National Standards Advisory Group for the development of national standards and the establishment of an independent inspectorate body;
  • Working closely with the Office of the Ombudsman to progress individual complaints and calling for the full implementation of the recommendations relating to complaints;
  • Ensuring that the implementation of recommendations relating to the provision of kitchens and living space in family centres is fully progressed;
  • Lobbying the Department of Health to progress the establishment of a multidisciplinary vulnerability screening in line with the EU Reception Conditions Directive and the McMahon recommendations;
  • Ensuring the access to the labour market is effective, and working to ensure access to education and training for asylum seekers.

In addition, we are actively involved in efforts to develop possible alternatives to direct provision. This includes working with other NGOs and philanthropic partners to engage with RIA on not for profit models, and in creating opportunities for discussion of alternative models based on international best practice (read about our recent IHREC-funded ‘Beyond McMahon’ conference here).

Institutionalised Living

Due to an unwieldy asylum system, the majority of asylum seekers spend over 4 years in Direct Provision waiting for their application to be processed. During this time, asylum seekers live in a state of enforced idleness; many cannot work, and in most centres, they cannot cook for themselves but are forced to eat in a canteen which only operates at certain times of the day. Hundreds of children have been born into Direct Provision and do not know any other life but institutionalised living. The lives of residents are governed by unnecessarily restrictive rules which can feel to residents like living in an ‘open prison’. Lack of privacy is a significant issue. Single residents share a room with several other adults, and in some centres, parents live in one room with their children. Facilities such as bathrooms are often shared.

Complaints

Over the years, Nasc has supported asylum seekers in making complaints about the physical conditions in centres and about treatment from staff. Because the complaints system is not independent from the operations of the Reception and Integration Agency, very few of these complaints have been responded by RIA in a productive way. Further, many residents fear that complaining would impact their treatment in the centres or on their asylum application, so residents are often reluctant to complain. Nasc has long campaigned for the introduction of an independent complaints procedure and the extension of the Ombudsman’s remit over direct provision.

As a result of the CA & TA decision in the High Court in 2014, RIA was forced to amend their complaints procedure to make it more independent. In 2015, they revised the House Rules to reflect the development of a new complaints procedure in line with the judgment, which would include an ‘Independent Appeals Officer’. However, until the announcement of the Ombudsman’s remit over Direct Provision in April 2017, the independence of the overall complaints procedure remained on paper only. We welcome the extension of the Ombudsman’s and Ombudsman for Children’s remit over direct provision, to ensure the independence of complaint and accountability over the reception system.  However, RIA must urgently address its own internal complaints procedures and assign a dedicated, independent complaints officer to handle complaints made to that body. 

April 2017: The Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children are now taking complaints from residents of direct provision. Nasc has fought for many years for a fair, independent and objective complaints procedure. This was a key recommendation in the McMahon Report and we welcome the Department of Justice’s move to implement it. For more information about the change and how to make a complaint, click HERE

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End Institutionalised Living Day of Action, Cork 2013

Public Protests

Over the years, we have supported and participated in public protests against Direct Provision, including the national ‘End Institutionalised Living’ protests held throughout the country in 2013. In Cork, over 150 asylum seekers and supporters took part in a rally in Cork City centre.

In 2014, Nasc supported residents in protesting against conditions in their centres and the length of time in the system. After years of being too afraid to speak out, residents had finally hit the end of their patience and organised spontaneous protests and sit-ins in several centres throughout the country. These protests garnered tremendous public support, widespread media attention and had a profound impact on the Government’s establishment of a ‘Working Group’ to make recommendations on how to improve the system.

The Working Group on the Protection Process and Direct Provision

These protests and years of campaigning prompted the Government to establish a ‘Working Group on the Protection Process and Direct Provision’ charged with the task of making recommendations to both the protection process and the reception system known as ‘Direct Provision’. Nasc was invited by the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and then Minister of State Aodhán Ó Riordáin to sit on the Working Group as one of the NGO representatives.

On the establishment of the Working Group in October 2014, we stated that although we were conscious of the limitations of the Working Group’s remit, we believed it was better to be at the table and try to effect change, while continuing to call for the end of direct provision and the introduction of a more humane reception system. We continue to see the implementation of the McMahon recommendations as an important first step towards the end of ‘Direct Provision’ and the introduction of a more humane reception system.

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Launch of McMahon Report, June 2015

After almost 9 months of meetings and consultations with asylum seekers, service providers and stakeholders, the Working Group Report (known as the ‘McMahon Report’) was published in June 2015. Despite assurances throughout the process that action would be taken quickly to implement the recommendations made by the group of government departments, asylum seeker representatives, NGOs and UNHCR Ireland, Nasc was profoundly disappointed when Minister Fitzgerald described the report as ‘food for thought’ at the launch on June 30, 2015. (See also here and here for our comments on the Government’s failures to act on the report.)

For the next year, Nasc worked with the other ‘Working Group’ NGOs and UNHCR Ireland to call on the Government to implement the recommendations. We spoke out strongly against aspects of the International Protection Bill (see here and here), which was guillotined through the Oireachtas in late 2015 without proper debate. A year on from the publication of the McMahon Report, the McMahon NGOs and UNHCR Ireland jointly welcomed a renewed commitment by the new Fine Gael led Government to implement the recommendations.

We continue to work closely with direct provision residents to ensure their dignity and human rights are being protected and vindicated, and to closely monitor the Government’s progress on implementation.  In 2017, Nasc published an audit of the progress of the Government’s implementation of the McMahon Recommendations. You can read that report here.