Fine Gael and Labour pledge to review asylum system


FINE GAEL and the Labour Party have pledged to fundamentally review the asylum system and consider allowing asylum seekers to work if they get into Government.

Both parties strongly criticised the asylum system at the Oireachtas justice committee yesterday, with Fine Gael claiming the situation at Mosney was an “utter disgrace” and comparing conditions at some asylum centres to “prisoner of war camps”.

Asylum seekers protested for a third successive day at the former Butlins holiday camp yesterday over a decision to move 111 people to a hostel in Dublin at short notice and without consultation.

A bus to transfer the residents to the Hatch Hall hostel in Dublin arrived in the morning and left in the afternoon without any of the asylum seekers getting on board.

“I’m hoping that there can be a compromise over this plan to move us and we can be allowed to stay,” said Ivo, a Nigerian asylum seeker, who is helping to organise the protests at the Mosney centre.

At the committee hearing investigating the conditions for asylum seekers living in the direct provision system, Fine Gael justice spokesman Alan Shatter accused the Government of losing sight of people’s humanity and seeing asylum seekers as mere numbers.

He said the Reception and Integration Agency’s (RIA) “decision to shift people around like cattle” should not have happened and was an utter disgrace. He said RIA’s prohibition on allowing asylum seekers access to food at some hostels after 5.30pm sounded like the type of thing that happened in prisoner of war camps rather than in a democratic society.

“I believe there should be a fundamental review of the system to see if there is a better way,” he said.

Mr Shatter said in circumstances where there are 450,000 unemployed people in Ireland providing access to employment for asylum seekers was a difficult issue. But he said condemning people to a situation where they cannot work for four or five years was wrong. He said access to the jobs market should be considered in a way that would be appropriate in the current economic climate.

Labour justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said that incarcerating people in direct provision with nothing to do for years was a disgrace. He said the correct thing to do was to enable quicker decisions to be taken on people’s asylum cases and change the situation with regard to the right to work for asylum seekers.

Mr Shatter made his appeal following presentations to the committee on the asylum system by two NGOs, Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) and AkiDwA – the African women’s network.

Flac director Noeline Blackwell said administration of the asylum system imposed “unnecessary cruelties” on extremely vulnerable people fleeing persecution. She said decisions took too long leaving asylum seekers waiting for years. During this time they are not allowed food in their rooms and are often moved between hostels with no proper consultation.

She said there was also no independent complaints mechanism within the system of direct provision, which means that asylum seekers could only complain to the same people who made a decision on their claim for refugee status.

Salome Mbugua of AkiDwA said women were exposed to gender bias within the asylum system and called for greater protection for women who may have been exposed to trafficking, sexual violence and rape. She said women living in direct provision often had no access to female doctors and faced intimidation at communal hostels.

AkiDwA is campaigning to have one of the 53 centres for asylum seekers made female only.

Mr Shatter criticised Fianna Fáil members for not attending the Oireachtas committee meeting. Brendan Kenneally, chair of the committee, was the only Fianna Fáil deputy present.