Reform of asylum-seeker system
Sir, – We wish to endorse the points made by Dr Joan Giller (March 27th) in relation to the direct provision system for asylum seekers operated by the Department of Justice.
We have worked delivering training in six asylum reception centres over the past five years. The system in operation is inhuman and there is no doubt that it will be the subject of a hand-wringing scandal in years to come.
These so-called reception centres are in effect prisons where people who have fled persecution, war, famine, abuse and discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and gender and sexual orientation are kept in abject conditions for very lengthy periods of time. We have met women in these centres who have been waiting seven and in one case nine years for a decision on their claim for refugee status.
These centres are in run-down hotels, in a mobile home site, in the old buildings of an agricultural college and in other often inaccessible locations. The asylum seekers in these reception centres are subject to inhuman restrictions, they are not allowed to cook their own meals even though the western food that is supplied is often unpalatable to them. There are numerous petty restrictions placed on them by local management making their lives even more miserable.
All but one of these centres are privately run. The management is paid to provide the service of accommodation and food to a number of asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, no matter how long they are waiting for a decision. They are not allowed to study either. The children of asylum seekers who have been in this country for over 10 years now are at an age to attend college having done very well in their Leaving Certificate, but are not allowed to attend third level.
The picture we see of asylum seekers in this country is of a group of people suffering a range of very serious disadvantages from mental health problems compounded by enforced boredom and being forced to live in this limbo situation.
We have come across incredibly cruel decisions made by faceless bureaucrats and tribunals. Last year a young woman, so terrified she could only whisper, told us she had just received a deportation order back to the Congo. She was the mother of two small children. She told us, “My children will not survive, they do not know war”. We put her in touch with a good solicitor, as any decent person would.
We have come across situations where an older religious woman was forced to share a room with a young woman from a completely different country and culture, of men being transferred overnight to different centres in another part of the country for daring to complain about conditions.
We have been told by women in very inaccessible centres, miles outside the nearest town of being offered lifts by Irish men and then asked if they are working (offering sex for money). The list of injustices and abuses is too long to itemise in this letter.
We have heard allegations of women and babies suffering from malnutrition and of suicides that are covered up. Residents in these centres are afraid to complain because they know they can be moved arbitrarily, far away from the contacts and supports they have built up.
An independent inspection of these centres is needed immediately but really the system of direct provision should be scrapped now before the scandals we are faced with in the future get even worse.
The Department of Justice’s line is that the process is so long because asylum seekers appeal deportation decisions and there was a suggestion that solicitors who helped them should cease to do so. Who would not go to any lengths possible to escape rape, mutilation and death both for themselves and their children in the war-torn Congo where women are the chief victims?
If these reception centres were a strictly temporary situation, say for no more than six months, then possibly there could be an excuse. But that is not the case.
We endorse the call for these centres to be closed and for asylum seekers to be treated fairly, speedily and with respect and dignity. – Yours, etc,
Partners in Catalyst
Sir, – The implication that a person cannot be eligible for refugee status if they were previously employed in their country of origin is incorrect (Sean Deegan, March 27th). Indeed, the contrary may well be the case, depending on the circumstances.
The United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 states that a refugee is someone who fears being persecuted in their own country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Where such a person cannot access protection in their country and where there is a reasonable chance they could be harmed if he/she returned home then that person is eligible for refugee protection.
It is an unfortunate reality that many people around the world are persecuted because of the work they do; writers, business people, social activists come to mind. In other cases, people are persecuted for who they are or other reasons unrelated to any job they may do. Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. They cannot access protection at home and face many challenges in accessing protection in other countries.
As the United Nations Agency responsible for supervising compliance with the Refugee Convention, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees welcomes this opportunity to raise awareness about who may qualify for refugee status and why it so important to apply the correct criteria in assessing eligibility for refugee status. – Yours, etc,
Head of Office,
United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees
Fitzwilliam Street Lower,