UNHCR Calls on Government to Urgently Implement Key Recommendations on Direct Provision
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is calling on the government to urgently implement key recommendations contained in the report of the Advisory Group on the provision of support, including accommodation, to persons in the international protection process, released 21 October. The Advisory Group’s proposals, if implemented, would ensure a more efficient system for determining who is in need of international protection, as well as providing a community-based model of accommodation for asylum-seekers and a whole of government approach to the promotion of positive integration outcomes.
“The Advisory Group’s recommendation for a new, permanent system to replace the current model of direct provision will take time, but it is achievable”, said Enda O’Neill, Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland. “Rather than waiting for the outcome of the White Paper process, the government should move ahead now with key measures to cut waiting times and establish an independent inspectorate to monitor compliance with binding higher standards in existing accommodation centres.”
According to UNHCR, a person who applies for asylum in Ireland can expect to wait 14 months for a first instance decision on their application. Appealing an unsuccessful decision can take a further 12 months. The Advisory Group’s recommendation to introduce binding deadlines in the asylum process, in particular 6 months for a first instance decision, represents a significant reform of the system that would enable persons in need of international protection to obtain status quickly and exit the direct provision system. Research conducted by UNHCR shows that long periods of time spent waiting for decisions in reception centres can lead todependency and disempowerment.
UNHCR is also calling on the government to move forward with the establishment of an independent inspectorate such as HIQA, to monitor compliance with higher standards in direct provision centres which are due to become binding on the 1 January 2021. This was previously recommended by the 2015 McMahon Report and is necessary to address a lack of consistency in standards from one centre to another and to drive improvements. Such inconsistency is further exacerbated by continuing reliance on emergency accommodation, where some 1,382 people are now accommodated (as of 15 September 2020).
UNHCR welcomes the adoption by the Advisory Group in its report of a number of recommendations made to it by the Agency, including: a shift in policy focus to a system that maximizes the integration of asylum-seekers and refugees; the increased involvement of local authorities and communities in facilitating and promoting integration; the introduction of vulnerability assessments; and the establishment of an independent body to evaluate the functioning of the refugee protection system. Such a body is required to ensure speedy implementation of the Advisory Group’s recommendations and to identify and prevent any future backlogs which would likely prolong the length of time people wait for decisions on their applications.
“Ending the current system of Direct Provision and establishing an entirely new system to accommodate asylum-seekers will take a number of years, as the Advisory Group acknowledges. However, there are measures that can be taken now that will create a more efficient, less costly and humane asylum system that directs more time and resources to ensuring positive integration outcomes for all. Today's announcement on immediate reforms to the right to work, which will allow asylum-seekers to apply for permission to work if waiting for a decision on a first application for 6 months, are a positive step in this direction.”
Notes for editors:
Key recommendations by the Advisory Group
Cutting Waiting Times
Average waiting times are now 14 months for a first decision. The Advisory Group has recommended that all first instance recommendations should be made in a time frame that ensures decisions will be taken within 6 months from the date an application for international protection is lodged. Research by UNHCR shows that long periods of time spent in State-funded accommodation may lead to dependency and disempowerment among many people seeking protection, hampering their integration prospects.
The Advisory group recommends that an independent inspectorate be established to monitor new standards being introduced in January 2021. The creation of a thorough and robust system of formalised standards is required to ensure consistency in the provision of services to people living in direct provision centres.
The early identification of asylum-seekers with vulnerabilities and special needs are required by law. They can help ensure that specific accommodation needs are met and that special supports for children and those with special needs are identified. The Advisory Group proposes that medical screening and vulnerability assessments are provided in reception centres.
The Advisory Group envisions a system of independent living in the community, where people would move after an initial period in reception centres. Such a system would entail an end to the current system of direct provision instead employing a distribution key designed to accommodate and facilitate the integration of asylum-seekers in local communities across the country.
Right to Work
The government has approved a number of changes in relation to access by applicants for international protection to work. These include the reduction in the waiting period from 9 months to 6 months from the date of first application for international protection. There has also been agreement to increase the validity period of a permission to access the labour market from 6 months to 12 months which is renewable.