Ireland out of step with Europe in treatment of asylum seekers - Nasc

Shatter says Ireland will not opt into EU directive as it is contrary to statutory position that asylum seekers shall not work

Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter. Photograph: Eric Luke

Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 07:00

Ireland is “out of step” with the rest of Europe in its treatment of asylum seekers, according to the Irish Immigrant Support Centre (Nasc).

The organisation made the comments after Minister for Justice Alan Shatter told the Dáil last week that the “principal reason” Ireland had not opted in to an EU council directive laying down minimum standards for asylum seekers was because it would mean applicants would have to receive access to the labour market.

The EU directive provides that if a decision has not been taken within one year of an application for asylum, where the delay is not the applicant’s fault, member states “shall decide the conditions for granting access to the labour market for the applicant”.

However, speaking in the Dáil last week, Mr Shatter said this was “contrary to the existing statutory position in Ireland which provides that an asylum seeker shall not seek or enter employment”.

“Extending the right to work to asylum seekers would almost certainly have a profoundly negative impact on application numbers, as was experienced in the aftermath of the July 1999 decision to do so,” he said.

“The immediate effect of that measure was a threefold increase in the average number of applications per month leading to a figure of 1,217 applications in December 1999 compared with an average of 364 per month for the period January to July 1999.

“Any change in public policy in this area would have to have regard to the very large numbers of people unemployed in this country,” he added.

The minister was answering a number of questions around direct provision posed by Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin.

Jennifer DeWan, campaigns and communications officer with Nasc, said by opting out of the directive, Ireland was largely out of step with the rest of Europe in its treatment of asylum seekers.

She said it was “ particularly concerning that the revisions to the directive have been adopted under the Irish EU presidency”.

“Ireland likes to position itself as a bastion of human rights but in this area it falls shockingly flat,” she said.

Ms DeWan said asylum seekers were waiting years for their applications to be processed, “living in unsuitable conditions and not able to provide for themselves or their families”.

Firm commitm ent
She called on the Department of Justice to give a firm commitment as to when they would publish revisions to the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 to create a single procedure for the processing of applications.

Of the 4,755 asylum seekers currently in the direct provision system, 593, or 12 per cent, have been waiting for less than a year since applying for asylum.

A further 489 have been waiting for between one and two years, 533 for between two years and three years; 622 for between three and four years; 806 for between four and five years and 1,712, or 36 per cent of cases, for over five years.