The State is not meeting its legal requirement to conduct vulnerability assessments for asylum seekers arriving in Ireland, new figures show.
Ireland is legally obliged to conduct vulnerability assessments for asylum seekers within 30 days of a person’s arrival, under the Reception Conditions Directive which was transposed into Irish law in June 2018.
Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman announced in October 2020 that a “formal system of vulnerability assessments” would start in December 2020.
However, data obtained by The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act shows that in 2021, just 574 vulnerability assessments were carried out, while in 2022, as of mid-September, 600 vulnerability assessments had been completed.
No vulnerability assessments were carried out in the years prior.
This is despite 13,319 people seeking asylum in Ireland during 2022, and 11,634 in 2021.
The goal of the assessment is to identify any special needs an asylum seeker may have, particularly those who may be more vulnerable such as minors, people with disabilities, elderly people, and victims of human trafficking.
The assessments ensure people are housed in adequate living conditions and receive necessary support while awaiting a decision on their asylum application.
The Government launched a pilot programme for vulnerability assessments in September 2022, in which questionnaires were made available to people seeking asylum. The announcement of the pilot cited “significant pressure on resources overall” due to the emergency situation in Ukraine, impacting the capacity to conduct vulnerability assessments.
While this was a “welcome development,” The Irish Refugee Council said it had “significant concerns” given the legal obligation to carry out these assessments had now been in place for several years, and was “disappointed that the established programme continues to fall below best practice standards”.
The IRC conducted a survey with a small sample of their clients, posing questions to them regarding their experiences of the pilot process. The results were shared with The Irish Times.
One client said they became “depressed, and even thought of committing suicide” after a lack of action for months on their accommodation transfer following a “deemed vulnerable” outcome. Another complained that the questionnaires were not provided in their language, leading to difficulty understanding the forms without help.
A spokeswoman for the IRC said the new system “in our view does not meet the legal requirement as defined in the Directive”.
“While attempting to address an increased demand, it is also very problematic as it places an undue burden on either the applicant themselves, or an unqualified support person such as a caseworker or friend, to answer questions,” she said.
Meanwhile, there is growing concern in Government that hundreds of asylum seekers could face homelessness in the coming weeks and months.
People intending to seek asylum in Ireland have been told to defer any travel plans amid a severe shortage of available accommodation. The Citywest hub is closed to international protection applicants seeking emergency shelter for at least another number of days.
There are currently 24 people seeking international protection who have been told this week there was no space available, a situation the IRC has described as “unprecedented”.