High Court to hear challenge to direct provision for asylum seekers

Family argues system of accommodation and allowances is unconstitutional

Asylum seekers queue in the canteen at Mosney Reception Centre. Photograph: Frank Miller

Asylum seekers queue in the canteen at Mosney Reception Centre. Photograph: Frank Miller

Tue, Sep 17, 2013, 18:16

An application for leave by a family of six to challenge the controversial system of direct provision of accommodation and allowances for asylum seekers will be heard by the High Court on October 21st.

Mr Justice Colm MacEochaidh said today that although the State was willing to concede leave for a judicial review, the court had to be satisfied that it should be granted.

Close to 5,000 people are kept in direct provision centres where they are given accommodation, three meals a day and €19.10 per week while they wait for their application for asylum to be heard by the High Court. They are neither allowed to work nor to claim state benefits while they are resident in the centres, where the average length of time spent is now about four years.

A family of six, which has been staying in direct provision centres for over four years, is taking a case in which they argue the system for housing and detaining asylum seekers is unconstitutional.

Lawyers for the family will argue that the system was unlawfully established, has no legal basis and continues to operate unlawfully, violating the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. They also contend stopping asylum seekers from working or from receiving social welfare payments breaches personal, family and equality rights under the Constitution.

Direct provision centres were set up in 2000 and there are currently 35 around the country. They are run by private contractors on State contracts.

Concerns about the centres have been raised by various groups including UN committees and by Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.

A Northern Ireland High Court judge recently pointed to “ample” evidence of physical and mental health issues among asylum seekers staying in direct provision accommodation.

The application for leave hearing is likely to last about half a day on October 21st but the court was told that if leave was granted by the court the full hearing would last for about two weeks.