Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will commission an independent review of the direct provision system for asylum seekers to include the appropriateness of the system, the associated health costs, the implications of de-skilling persons over a prolonged period, the human rights perspective, the mental health perspective, the social cohesion perspective, the question of any independent complaints system; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department is responsible for the accommodation of asylum seekers in accordance with the Government policy of direct provision and dispersal. There is a continuing decline in the numbers of asylum seekers needing to be accommodated by RIA. From the beginning of 2009 to end of April, 2012, RIA has reduced its portfolio from 59 asylum seeker accommodation centres throughout the country to 38, with a corresponding reduction in the number of persons being accommodated from 7,002 to 5,179 – a reduction of 26% over this period.
In order to meet its international obligations in the area of asylum, the Government has allocated significant resources over the years to our asylum determination structures, to reception arrangements and to the provision of services to asylum seekers. Ireland is not unique in this respect. In many previous responses to Dáil questions, I have dealt with the origin and purpose of the direct provision, by which the State discharges its obligations to provide for the basic requirements of asylum seekers. The system allows the State to ensure that a suitable standard of accommodation, food and ancillary services are provided to asylum seekers resident in the State. Dispersal ensures that the pressure on health, welfare, education and other services is evenly distributed to allow an efficient management of resources in those areas. The policy of direct provision and dispersal is one of the central features of the State’s asylum system and the need for the system remains.
I am satisfied that the human rights of asylum seekers are respected in the direct provision system. Asylum seekers receive nourishment on a par with, and in some cases superior to, that available to the general population. Asylum seekers receive a health service, including mental health services, on the same basis as Irish citizens and it is, in many cases, far superior to what is available in their countries of origin. Children of asylum seekers are provided with primary and secondary education in the local community on the same basis as the children of Irish citizens. Over the years, the system has been open to scrutiny by many international bodies. Centres have been visited by various UN bodies, including the UNHCR, by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner and by the Council of Europe’s European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).
In relation to complaints mechanisms, I have explained in previous Dáil responses that the revised RIA House Rules and Procedures set out the entitlements and obligations placed on centre management and on residents and, in the event that these aren’t being met, a complaints procedure to be invoked by either party. The Rules also set out in detail how a resident can go about requesting a transfer as well as the types and standard of service that an asylum seeker should receive whilst residing in direct provision accommodation. This complaints system is considered by RIA to be broadly in line with the guidelines set out by the Office of the Ombudsman for ‘internal complaints systems’.
In relation to ’de-skilling’ and social cohesion, the existing statutory position in Ireland provides that an asylum seeker shall not seek or enter employment. This prohibition is retained in the Immigration Residence and Protection Bill 2010 which I intend to republish later this year. Extending the right to work to asylum seekers would almost certainly have a profoundly negative impact on application numbers, as was experienced in the aftermath of the July 1999 decision to do so.