UNHCR welcomes ambitious plans to support integration of refugees

Cautions that delays in issuing decisions risks undermining implementation

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency has welcomed the publication of the Irish government’s White Paper on Direct Provision as a significant shift in policy aimed at maximizing the integration of refugees. However, it warned that deteriorating processing times, continued reliance on emergency accommodation for asylum-seekers, and shortages of housing in the community for those granted status risk hampering the realisation of the report’s aims.

“The White Paper on Direct Provision is a welcome, ambitious plan that has the potential to radically transform the integration outcomes of refugees in Ireland”, said Enda O’Neill, Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland. “In moving away from accommodating people in centres, some of which are in isolated locations, the new system promises a model which integrates access to services into existing community settings that will promote positive links between refugees and their communities.”

Continuing to fund integration programmes, harmonizing services and engaging local communities and civil society actors are all ways of building social cohesion, said UNHCR. This will ensure that communities are well-equipped to receive refugees, and that refugees are well-supported to realize their potential in their new homes.

UNHCR cautioned however, that the effective operation of the accommodation system for asylum-seekers could only be achieved by providing fair and fast procedures for deciding on their cases. Currently, most asylum-seekers can expect to wait a minimum of 18 months, and many far longer for a final decision on their applications, a situation exacerbated by the current pandemic.

“Fair and efficient procedures benefit refugees by ensuring swift access to safety and reducing uncertainty. They benefit governments by reducing procedural costs while respecting human rights principles, and decrease the overall demands on the reception system”, said O’Neill. “Equally, it is important to the credibility of the entire asylum system that those who are found not to be in need of international protection can be returned promptly to their country of origin in safety and with dignity.”

UNHCR also urged the government to put an end to the use of emergency accommodation and to appoint an independent inspectorate to monitor new standards in existing centres. Applications for asylum have fallen in Ireland due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions, providing an invaluable opportunity to begin implementing these reforms without delay.

UNHCR added it is committed to supporting the Irish government on implementing the White Paper and planning for appropriate transition arrangements.