Direct provision for asylum seekers criticised


THE SYSTEM of direct provision of accommodation for asylum seekers may infringe their rights under a number of headings and should be radically reformed, according to the legal rights organisation Flac.

A legal analysis of the direct provision system, entitled One System Doesn’t Fit All, is being launched today by Flac. A number of short films, prepared by two organisations working with asylum seekers and migrants, will be screened.

The report points out that the system of direct provision, where asylum seekers are dispersed around the country and housed in centres on a full-board basis, with €19.60 a week to meet all other needs, was intended as a short-term measure while their asylum claims were being processed.

However, delays in the system have left some people living in direct provision for years, with a third of those in this system last October having been there for more than three years. Only 25 per cent were there for less than a year, and of those only 12 per cent for less than six months.

The report also points out that when the €19.60 allowance was introduced 10 years ago it was 20 per cent of the supplementary welfare allowance. Unlike all other social welfare payments, it has not increased, and today is worth only 10 per cent of this allowance.

The system involves contracting out the accommodation to private entities, and is hugely expensive, according to the report. Four out of five of the highest-paid contractors to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform are accommodation-providers.

Although the number of new asylum seekers has been falling steadily in recent years (and is at its lowest level since 1996), the numbers in direct provision are increasing, the report says.

The system lacks transparency, according to Flac. The number of inspections specified by the supervisory body, the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), is not carried out; the information collected at information clinics is not recorded, and the RIA does not keep an accurate register of complaints, either by residents or staff.

Among the residents’ human rights that are put at risk by the system are the right not to be discriminated against, the right to freedom of expression, the right to adequate food, the right to adequate health, and the rights of children, both those living with their parents and separated children.

Changes in the social welfare system have made it impossible for asylum seekers to access a number of social welfare benefits, including child benefit, which drove them further into poverty.

Flac recommends that the State carry out an audit of its policy of direct provision and dispersal, to ensure it meets human rights standards under Irish law.

A greater level of care needs to be taken to protect the rights of those who are particularly vulnerable because of their age, gender, disability, health or sexual orientation.

Account should be taken of physical or mental health and cultural, religious or ethnic background in making a decision to relocate residents, and they should be given a voice in decisions made about them, and a fair and objective hearing if they have complaints.

The report recommends that self-catering facilities should be used to the fullest extent possible. The mandatory number of inspections should be carried out, with an annual report on the conditions in all centres being published. Contracts between the RIA and providers should be in line with the Quality Customer Service binding Government departments.

Any person longer than a year in direct provision, which was intended as a short-term solution, should be regarded as a destitute person for the purpose of eligibility for social welfare benefits.

If they cannot access supplementary welfare allowance, the direct provision allowance should be increased to €65 per week for an adult and €38 for a child.