Direct provision: a stain on the State

Appalling circumstances in which many asylum seekers live highlighted in children’s comments

Ruban Hambakachere from Zambia taking part in a march to the Department of Justice in protest at the direct provision system in 2013. Photograph: David Sleator

Ruban Hambakachere from Zambia taking part in a march to the Department of Justice in protest at the direct provision system in 2013. Photograph: David Sleator

 

There is a humane way and an authoritarian way of responding to migrants who wish to rebuild their lives in a foreign country. Irish people should be particularly conscious of that. But successive governments, influenced by official advice that a generous response to asylum seekers would create a ‘pull factor’ for others, have behaved badly. Not only were asylum seekers banned from taking up employment here, they were trapped in a labyrinthine appeals system and confined to special reception centres with subsistence allowances. It represented a stain on the State’s reputation.

The treatment of asylum seekers and their families has improved somewhat following civil agitation and publication of the McMahon report in 2015. The number waiting for longer than three years to have their applications processed has halved, but remains at 28 per cent. Subsistence payments have risen, but not to recommended levels. Progress has been made in providing for independent living and dealing with the needs of children growing up in special provision centres. But the key McMahon recommendation – to allow applicants the right to enter gainful employment within nine months and to enjoy the basic human dignity that goes with it – was withheld.

The appalling circumstances in which many asylum seekers live was highlighted again this week by a report of a Government consultation with children in direct provision. They spoke of “not liking anything” about their lives, of being “looked at in a creepy way” by men in their centres, and of worrying about their mothers.

Statements from ministers in recent days, itemising improvements in the system, are little more than window dressing and can be traced to a recent Supreme Court ruling that, under the Constitution, an absolute prohibition on employment is not permitted. The court found that a right to work was “part of the human personality” and should not be indefinitely denied. Instead of allowing asylum seekers to work, however, a task force has been established to review the situation. It’s a reluctant – and mean-spirited – official response.

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