Inhumane and discriminatory

Thu, Apr 25, 2013, 08:23

The quality of care being provided to asylum seekers and their children is seriously inadequate and requires immediate reform. A direct provision and dispersal system, designed to meet their basic food and accommodation needs in special centres, has been criticised by the Irish Refugee Council as being inhumane and discriminatory. Those shortcomings are compounded by the denial of a right to work, even as payment of a weekly allowance of €19.10 for adults (€9.60 for children) ensures their persistent poverty and isolation.

Retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness has warned that a future government may have to issue a formal apology for the manner in which children, in particular, are being treated. A system where families have to live in one room; are not able to cook for themselves and adults are not allowed to work was, she said, highly damaging to children.

Ireland is one of two EU States that has not signed up to a EU directive that sets minimum standards for the treatment of asylum seekers. Earlier this year, a report from the Council of Europe criticised the direct provision and dispersal system on the grounds that such centres are unsuitable for lengthy periods of stay and place the mental health of those involved at risk. Inmates suffered from depression because of a denial of work and isolation.

There may have been some justification for the introduction of this harsh regime more than a decade ago when EU laws were different, application numbers were far higher and the administrative system was unable to cope. Since then, under pressure from churches and other organisations, politicians have grudgingly recognised the need for change. In 2002, the government promised that all new asylum applications would be dealt with within six months. It didn’t happen. Eight years later, in response to growing concerns, the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill was brought before the Dáil. It fell with the last government. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has offered to produce a revised version of that Bill, aspects of which were heavily criticised.

At a time of economic crisis and high unemployment, the humane treatment of adults and their children who fled wars, famine and persecution to come here may not top the Government’s list of priorities. It does, however, offer society an opportunity to display care and compassion for the dispossessed. In other countries, asylum seekers are allowed to work. By withholding that opportunity here, while paying a pittance in living expenses, confidence and self-respect is undermined. Treating refugees as social problems and condemning them to long-stay holding centres is demeaning and destructive of human dignity. A first step in a reform agenda should involve abolition of the direct provision and dispersal system.

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