The direct provision system for asylum seekers is ‘not fit for purpose’ and needs to scrapped or replaced, according to a new report from an Oireachtas committee.
Direct provision was introduced 15 years ago to provide shelter for asylum seekers for just six months, until applicants were either granted refugee status or deported. This new report from the Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions has called for a series of changes in the existing regime, but ultimately wants it to be scrapped.
There is around 4,360 asylum seekers currently living in direct provision centres around Ireland. Members of the committee visited four direct provision centres in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Meath. Based on what they saw, the committee described the current living conditions as “intolerable” and “cramped”, with little private space for parents with children.
Over one third of the asylum seekers in direct provision are children. Many of these children were born in Ireland but do not enjoy the same rights as other Irish children. The committee’s report says people in direct provision should have the right to work. The recommends that the restriction on working must be lifted soon as possible to avoid an long-term difficulties.
The report also notes that the person living in direct provision for the longest time has been there for eleven years but the average stay is 5 years. It also commented on this figure, saying the delay in processing the applications was “inexcusable”.
But haven’t we heard this all before?
These figures and recommendations will not surprise people that are familiar with the conditions in direct provision centres. It has already been widely reported on. Last November, I spoke to a resident in the Birchwood House direct provision centre in Waterford. She had been involved in the recent protests in Waterford and Dublin and wanted people to know what kind of conditions they were being forced to live in. She asked me not to disclose her real name, in fear that it would affect her application for asylum.
“I myself have been waiting nearly nine years. The protest was meant to spread the word that there are people in Waterford who have been abandoned,” Natasha told me.
She told me that the hardest part was trying to raise her children in this environment, after promising herself that they would have a better future in Ireland. At present, asylum-seeking children are entitled to primary and secondary level education but cannot go to third level because they do not qualify for free fees. Apart from his obvious issue, school can be very difficult for her children.
“One day in primary school, my son was asked to write about his house. Everyone was talking about the different rooms in their houses, their own rooms and what colour it was.
When it came around to my son’s turn to talk – he said I don’t have a house. The other children asked him where he lived if he didn’t have a house. He told them that he lived in a hostel and the teacher asked him to describe it. The kids began laughing when he told them that his family all live in one room and have to queue up for food”.
One of the major problems with the current system came from a decision made by the State back in April of 2000. They decided to pay private contractors to provide accommodation for asylum seekers. But the majority of these contractors have backgrounds in property, not hospitality or catering. These contractors receive about €50 million in taxpayers’ funding each year and most are registered as private unlimited companies, which means their financial affairs are not open for public scrutiny. None of these companies come from a health or welfare background and Natasha tells me that they create a very hostile environment to live in.
The chairman of the Public Service Oversight and Petitions Committee has called for direct provision to be scrapped. Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said that after visiting asylum centres around the country the committee felt it has to comment on the overall system.
“These centres were only ever intended for residents for six months while some have been there for 11 years, which is outrageous. You can’t work and live on €19 a week. They are living in limbo,” he said.
It also recommends the responsibility for inspections at the centres be carried out by an independent body such as the Health Information and Quality Authority.
Mac Lochlainn also said, in an article he did for thejournal.ie, that those in direct provision felt excluded and isolated because they had nobody to report abuses too.
“Ordinary Irish citizens have access to the Ombudsman to advance concerns on public service delivery, while those in the direct provision system do not. A section of Irish society is being neglected and quite possibly being discriminated against…
So we are saying that, while the current system is in place, the respective jurisdictions of the Ombudsman for Public Service and the Ombudsman for Children must be extended to include the direct provision system. We also call for the FOI Acts to be extended to include the direct provision system and the Reception and Integration Agency.
Given that robust independent oversight is required, the RIA should also establish a pre-Ombudsman independent complaints system for residents.”
But reports and promises have been made before. Back in November, Natasha had told me that she and other residents of Birchwood House had met with Minister for Communities, Culture and Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and had felt positive afterward.
Speaking at the 15th anniversary of direct provision back in April, he said it was not an occasion to be proud of and marks a regrettable period in Irish history. He said that overhaul of the system would follow this committee’s report and that it would represent the biggest change in a generation. He didn’t give any precise details at the time but said speeding up the process was his number one priority.
This is an issue that has had a tendency of dragging on and not being addressed. This is a report from Morning Ireland, over a year ago. Will we be listening to a similar report in a years time?
It does not benefit us as a country to have asylum seekers in the system for 10 or 11 years. This is an issue that has already dragged on for 15 years and the Minister needs to finally address it, for the good of everyone involved.
(Originally published at http://dlditmaj.blogspot.ie)