Analysis: Ruling a relief for policy makers but a blow for asylum seekers

Legal case failed to establish that direct provision breaches human rights

Asylum seekers at Millstreet Accommodation Centre at Drishane Castle in north Cork. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Asylum seekers at Millstreet Accommodation Centre at Drishane Castle in north Cork. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

 

It’s almost 15 years since a system to provide asylum seekers with food and shelter was established by the State.

The then minister for justice estimated that those seeking refugee status would spend no longer than six months in the “direct provision” system. Asylum seekers were to be prohibited from working, while there was an allowance of €19.10 a week per adult, with an additional €9.60 a week per child, to help meet basic needs.

Today, more than 4,000 people are living an average of four years or more in conditions which most agree are damaging to their health, welfare and life-chances.

The direct provision allowance hasn’t changed in 15 years. The accommodation centres – mostly former hostels or hotels – are run by private contractors who receive about €50 million in State funding annually.

A succession of groups, including the United Nations and international human rights organisations, have heavily criticised the system as a breach of the rights of families and individuals.

Yesterday, the High Court took a different view.

Rejected claims

Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh

He also rejected claims that asylum seekers’ weekly allowances were unlawful, and rejected an argument that direct provision required primary legislation and was therefore in breach of constitutional provisions on the separation of powers.

The ruling will come as a relief to policy-makers in Government who feared a successful challenge could lead to a surge in demand for housing and social welfare.

But it will come as a bitter disappointment to campaigners and those living in direct provision.

However, the judge’s ruling that some of the “house rules” governing the lives of asylum seekers in the system are unlawful is the only finding which will bring some hope to campaign groups.

The current system does not have an independent complaints mechanism, while the judge also recognised that the lack of visitation rights, unannounced room inspections and the requirements to sign in were also unlawful.

These are issues of real concern not just to residents who live under these restrictions, but also to advocates and campaign groups working to support residents.

Despite the ruling’s finding that the system had not breached the family’s rights, the Government has pledged to address some controversial issues in how the system operates by way of a special working group.

The hopes of asylum seekers and campaignersnow rest in the hands of this body.

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