Asylum seekers are being forced to wait an average of two years for a decision on their protection applications despite recommendations that the process be completed within 12 months, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has warned.
Retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon recommended in June 2015 that newly arrived asylum seekers receive a decision on their application within 12 months and that they be given the right to work after nine months. Nearly three years later, asylum seekers are waiting an average of 19 months for an interview at the Department of Justice, with the final decision likely to result in further delays.
On February 9th of this year the Supreme Court ruled the ban on asylum seekers' right to work was unconstitutional, meaning people awaiting a decision on their application could legally apply for jobs in Ireland. However, the restrictions within the right to work scheme proposed by Government means accessing the employment market for most asylum seekers is near impossible.
Speaking at University College Cork’s School of Law on Tuesday, head of UNHCR Ireland Enda O’Neill warned that leaving people for long periods in direct provision without access to employment was resulting in “dependency and disempowerment” and “hampering their integration prospects”.
Mr O’Neill noted that under European law, decisions on asylum applications should be made “in normal circumstances within six months”.
“Each year one person spends in direct provision costs the state €10,950” said O’Neill, referring to figures in the 2015 McMahon Working Group report. “The cost of processing is a fraction of this amount. Investing in decision making not only improves outcomes for refugees, but also makes financial sense.”
Fiona Finn from the Immigrant Support Centre (Nasc) in Cork warned that few changes had been implemented since the findings of the McMahon report. “It is essential that we look beyond direct provision and start to imagine what a truly respectful and humane protection and reception system could look like. This conference is a critical first step in that process.”
There were 5,318 people living in the 34 direct provision centres across Ireland at the end of March 2018.
Some 993 applications for asylum have been received by the Department of Justice so far this year. A total of 2,927 applications were made in 2017, significantly lower than the peak in 2002 when 11,634 were made.