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New legislation missed opportunity to address ongoing issues with Irish asylum system

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New legislation missed opportunity to address ongoing issues with Irish asylum system

1 December 2015

The publication of the International Protection bill is a missed opportunity for people still in direct provision, according to organisations who took part in the Working Group on the Protection Process, including Direct Provision.

The Working Group, which reported in June, made several key recommendations on improvements to the protection system, including the need for urgent implementation of a new single determination procedure through the early enactment of the International Protection Bill. Other recommendations regarding the contents of the Bill itself however, such as provisions relating to children and the right to work, were not addressed by the Bill, which goes before the Seanad on Tuesday 1 December.

“The Bill was an opportunity to begin implementing key recommendations that would significantly improve the lives of those people still in direct provision. However, almost 6 months after the publication of the Group’s final report, only 3 recommendations from 173 have been implemented,” said Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc.

Ireland remains the only country in the EU that does not give asylum-seekers the right to work after a defined period of time if there are delays in issuing a decision on their protection application. This is despite a recommendation in the report that they should be given access to the labour market if they have not received a decision within 9 months. Such a change would bring Ireland into line with other EU states who are obliged to do so under an EU Directive on Reception Conditions which the Irish State has not opted into.

Furthermore, a recommendation that the general principle contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child has not been fully implemented. This states that that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children.

Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance said: “A large number of NGOs and their staff gave their time freely to both the Working Group and the pre-legislative scrutiny process at the Oireachtas Justice Committee. It is very discouraging to see that the Government has not implemented recommendations related to children from the Working Group report.”

Stephen Ng'ang’a, co-ordinator of the Core Group of Asylum-Seekers and Refugees, said, “Throughout the Working Group process, we were continually reminded that the needs of children were to be considered as a priority. We are disappointed to see that the same spirit was not given effect, in practical terms, in the provisions of this Bill.”

Eugene Quinn, Country Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, said: “The International Protection Bill will only succeed in eliminating excessive delays in the Irish protection system if decision making bodies are adequately resourced. Furthermore, in order to facilitate a smooth transition to a Single Procedure, the Working Group recommendations resolving the situation of 3,350 people more than 5 years in the system, including 1,480 persons residing in Direct Provision, must be fully implemented in advance.”

The recommendations in the Report are fully costed and were agreed by consensus after 8 months of deliberations by Working Group members including all relevant Government Departments, NGOs, UNHCR and experts in the field of asylum and refugee law. 

Note to editors:

The Reception Conditions Directive and its later “Recast” is one of four key instruments of the Common European Asylum System. It harmonises to a basic standard how Member States host asylum seekers and their accompanying family members for the duration of the asylum process. Ireland is one of just two EU countries which has not opted in to the Directive but the other country, Denmark, has provided a right to work in separate legislation.

Under a Protocol (No. 21) to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Ireland is not bound to participate in EU instruments in this area but may opt-in to any it wishes to. The Working Group Report recommended the State opt-in to all instruments of the Common European Asylum System, unless clear and objectively justifiable reasons not to can be advanced.

Outside of the context of the International Protection Bill, the working group made the following recommendations on improving the system for current applicants, which have yet to be implemented:

Solutions for Long Stayers
In recent months there has been partial implementation of the tailored solutions in the Working Group report recommended for persons more than 5 years in the system. Critically, all the additional resources identified in the Working Group to fully implement the long stayer solutions have not been put in place. Although there has been some progress for those longest in the system, delays are growing rapidly at earlier durations.

Increase in weekly allowance
The Working Group report recommended an increase in the weekly allowance from €19.10 to €38.74 for adults and from €9.60 to €29.80 for children. The rise in relation to adults restores the ratio between the weekly allowance and the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) as pertained in 2000 when it was first set.

The Working Group report recommended that all families should have access to cooking facilities (whether in a self-contained unit or through use of a communal kitchen) and their own private living space in so far as practicable. It is recognised that it may take time to reconfigure existing centres or bring new centres on line that meet this requirement. With this in mind, the end of 2016 is identified as the date by which these recommendations should be fully implemented.

To address the concerns around living conditions for single persons, 80% of whom are in shared bedrooms, the Working Group recommended that they should have the possibility of applying for a single room after nine months and be offered one after 15 months. They should also have the option of cooking for themselves

Access to Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children
The Working Group recommended the extension of the remit of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children to include complaints relating to services provided to residents and transfer decisions following a breach of the House Rules.

For more information on the recommendations of the working group, please click here.