The new international protection accommodation system set to replace direct provision will advance “integration and inclusion”, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman has said.
The long-awaited White Paper on ending the controversial direct provision system for housing asylum seekers, originally due to go before the Cabinet by the end of 2020, will be published next week, Mr O’Gorman told a conference on integration hosted by the Immigrant Council of Ireland on Tuesday.
The White Paper does not suggest “tinkering at the edges” of the direct provision system, he assured, adding: “We are not looking to reform the system; we are looking to end it and bring about a new model of accommodation.”
A report by a Government expert group published in October recommended moving away from congregated-living centres to an “own-door” accommodation system. The programme for Government commits to ending direct provision within the lifetime of this Dáil.
Mr O’Gorman, whose ministerial portfolio includes the direct provision system, said the White Paper will put forward “proactive policies” for the integration of refugees into communities and said human rights will be the “cornerstone” of the new approach.
“The institutionalisation, which was very much an element of direct provision, needs to end and we need to work towards integration from day one,” he said.
Greater community involvement and support from local voluntary organisations will “help foster integration and inclusion” of protection applicants in their host communities, the Minister said. There is a lot of good practice in Ireland to take influence from, including work already being done by local groups that have built strong relationships with residents of direct provision, he added.
This new plan will also recognise and provide for the “complex needs” of people who seek protection in the State. Specific provisions will be made for children and other vulnerable groups with additional needs, he said.
The process of change from the old system to new will be “complex” and “take time”, the Minister stressed. He warned that the transition is coming at a time of housing pressures and as the global Covid-19 pandemic is absorbing significant Government resources.
In its report the Government expert group, led by former secretary general of the European Commission Dr Catherine Day, called for the new system to be fully implemented by mid-2023 and for the transition period to begin as soon as possible.
Mr O’Gorman said he is confident a cost-effective model that responds to the needs of asylum seekers is achievable within the “ambitious” timeframe laid out in the forthcoming White Paper.
“I have always tried to be as honest as possible that a change of this magnitude cannot be delivered in an incredibly tight timeframe, but nevertheless I believe the timeframe we have set out is ambitious,” he said.
“Achieving this new system will not just involve my department, it will be a whole-of-Government approach. But we see it further as a whole-of-society approach.”
Input was sought throughout the drafting of the White Paper from a wide range of experts in housing, human rights, and migration, and from people who have endured the direct provision system, he added.