FORTY-NINE ASYLUM seekers have taken their own lives while living in direct-provision centres over the past decade, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has told the Dáil.
Mr Shatter said most of these deaths occurred not in the centres themselves but in hospitals and other locations where the State body with responsibility for asylum seekers, the Reception and Integration Agency, had no remit.
He said the agency had provided accommodation for almost 50,000 asylum seekers since 2002.
The determination of the cause of death in cases of suicide was a matter for local coroners and the agency had no function in the matter, the Minister told Labour deputy John Lyons.
While no asylum seekers have died by suicide so far this year, six died in this manner in 2010.
The highest numbers of death by suicide occurred in 2003 and 2008, when the deaths of eight asylum seekers were recorded each year.
Under the direct-provision system introduced in 1999, asylum seekers do not qualify for welfare payments and are instead provided with accommodation and food in mostly privately run but publicly funded centres around the country.
Adults receive a personal allowance of €19.10 per week and children €9.60.
Earlier this year the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern at the negative impact direct provision had on the welfare of asylum seekers.
It said delays in processing their applications meant asylum seekers spent lengthy periods in direct provision, often leading to health and psychological problems, including serious mental illness.
The committee called for a review of the system and for the speedy processing of applications.
Department of Justice figures show that almost half of asylum seekers living in direct-provision centres have been there for more than three years.
Some wait more than five years to get a final decision on their claims for protection, even though the direct-provision system was introduced as an emergency measure to accommodate people for up to six months.
A total of 6,230 places are provided for asylum seekers in reception centres around the country, of which 5,437 are currently occupied, according to Mr Shatter.
The biggest centre is at Mosney, Co Meath, where 575 out of 600 places are currently occupied.
Other large centres are in Athlone (319 asylum seekers), Galway (276) and Millstreet, Co Cork (275).