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 reception 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 ‘directly provides’ essential services, medical care and accommodation and board with three meals a day provided at set times. 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 35 centres around the country are privately owned and operated, and the standards of accommodation and living conditions vary widely.
When the Direct Provision system was established in 2000, it was described as an ‘interim’ solution to the high numbers of asylum seekers entering the State in search of protection, and concerns about a growing risk of homelessness for that population. Over 15 years later, very little has changed in the physical conditions, supports or treatment of asylum seekers while they remain in these centres.
Ireland’s policy on refugees and asylum seekers is currently governed by the Refugee Act 1996. This will soon be replaced by the International Protection Act, 2015, when that legislation is enacted (possibly late 2016). Ireland also participates in the European Union’s Asylum Policy, however the Government has ‘opted out’ of some of the Directives, including Directive 2003/9/EC, commonly known as the ‘Reception Directive’. In addition to providing minimum best practice standards for the reception of asylum seekers throughout Europe, the Reception Directive would entail allowing asylum seekers limited access to the labour market, which the Irish State is not willing to grant. In 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.
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‘.
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; they cannot work, and in most centres, they cannot cook for themselves but are forced to eat in a canteen which only operates at certain time 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 many centres, parents live in one room with their children. Facilities such as bathrooms are often shared.
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 were responded to in a productive way. Further, many residents feared that complaining would impact their treatment in the centres or on their asylum application, so residents were often reluctant to complain. Nasc has long campaigned for the introduction of an independent complaints procedure.
As a result of the CA & TA decision in the High Court in 2014, the Reception and Integration Agency was forced to amend their complaints procedure to make it more independent. In addition, Nasc recently submitted three complaints to the Ombudsman. For the first time (as far as we know), RIA officially engaged with the Ombudsman in the investigation of these complaints, and all three complaints were upheld. We welcome RIA’s commitment to engage in future with the Ombudsman around complaints, to ensure the independence of complaint and accountability over the reception system.
(If you are a resident of direct provision and would like support in making a complaint, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Direct Provision Complaint’ in the subject line.)
NGO Forum on Direct Provision
Nasc was a founding member of the NGO Forum on Direct Provision, which is a network of organisations throughout the country committed to improving the lives of asylum seekers. For more information about the Forum click here. The Forum is not currently active.
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. The Irish Refugee Council coordinated the national day of action, which called 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. A letter and email campaign directed at Cork TDs Kathleen Lynch and David Stanton was also launched alongside a national petition.
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.
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.
After almost 9 months of meetings and consultations with asylum seekers, service providers and stakeohlders, 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.
The key recommendations that remain to be implemented include:
- Improve the physical conditions in all centres in line with the McMahon recommendations, in particular the introduction of communal and/or private kitchens and private living spaces for families;
- Increase the Direct Provision Allowance to €38.74 for adults and €29.80 for children, to bring the payments back into line with the current Supplementary Welfare Allowance and further account for fact that asylum seeking children have not been entitled to claim Child Benefit since 2004;
- Introduce a Standards Setting Committee to ensure an appropriate minimum standard of living across all accommodation centres, to include independent inspections based on those standards
- Follow through on the agreement made in principle to clarify in legislation the remit of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children over the direct provision system;
- Revisit the refusal to consider a right to work in line with the EU Receptions Directive (a right to work if no decision on an application has been made after 9 months);
- Introduce an early vulnerability assessment to ensure vulnerable applicants, for example victims of torture, are able to benefit fully from their rights and are provided with adequate supports;
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.