UNHCR calls for action to cut Irish asylum waiting times

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has called for immediate action to reduce backlogs and cut the length of time people are waiting for a decision on their protection applications.

Speaking before this Wednesday’s Conference, ‘Beyond McMahon – the future of asylum reception in Ireland’, organised jointly by Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre and UCC’s Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, UNHCR’s Head of Office in Ireland said that asylum-seekers are now waiting on average of 19 months to be interviewed by the International Protection Office (IPO) at the Department of Justice and Equality, unless their case is prioritized. With decisions likely to take longer again after interview, many asylum-seekers may now expect to wait two years before they will receive a decision on their asylum claim.

“UNHCR’s own research shows that long periods of time spent in State-funded accommodation is leading to dependency and disempowerment among many people seeking protection, hampering their integration prospects” said Enda O’Neill, Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland. “The introduction of a more general right to work from June, for those who can avail of it, should ease some of the stress people experience while waiting. Ultimately however, they need certainty about their fate to move forward with their lives.”

Provisional statistics from the Irish authorities for 2017 indicate that there were approximately 5,200 people awaiting a decision at the IPO at the end of 2017. This is up more than 1000 over the course of the previous 12 months in spite of the introduction of a new single procedure in December 2016 intended to reduce processing times to six months.

European Union law requires states to ensure that decisions are made on applications as soon as possible, and in normal circumstances within six months. Many countries have laid down such time limits in national law with a majority of countries setting the limit at six months.  Under Irish law, where a decision has not been taken within six  months, all that is required is for the Department of Justice and Equality to provide the applicant, upon request, with an estimate of the time it is likely to take to reach a decision.

Shorter processing times would also result in savings for the state. “Each year one person spends in direct provision costs the state €10,950” said O’Neill, referring to figures in the 2015 McMahon Working Group report. “The cost of processing is a fraction of this amount. Investing in decision making not only improves outcomes for refugees, but also makes financial sense.”

“Much of the focus in Ireland of late has been on direct provision and the accommodation system itself. However, the key underlying issue is not the accommodation necessarily but rather processing times. Ireland is to be commended for its ongoing efforts to improve conditions in refugee accommodation centres, but when direct provision was introduced in 2000, the intention was that it should only be for a short period of time. This must be our goal again.”

 

Enda O’Neill will be chairing a panel at this Wednesday’s Conference, ‘Beyond McMahon – the future of asylum reception in Ireland’, in Cork. The conference is being organised by Nasc and UCC Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights.