Asylum seeker support focus of Government group

State engagement with local communities on hosting and direct provision to be studied

Protest in  Ballinamore over asylum seeker accommodation: recent months have seen objections there and in Oughterard. Photograph:  Brian Farrell

Protest in Ballinamore over asylum seeker accommodation: recent months have seen objections there and in Oughterard. Photograph: Brian Farrell

 

The Government has established a new independent group to examine whether the existing system of supports given to asylum seekers, including direct provision, is fit for purpose.

The group, chaired by former European Commission secretary general Catherine Day, will examine the Irish international protection system.

It met for the first time this week. It will look at a range of issues – such as accommodation, education, employment and social welfare rights – and is expected to report back to the Government in about a year’s time.

The Irish Times understands it will also examine engagement between the State and local communities. Recent months have seen protests in towns such as Oughterard, Co Galway, and Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, which were slated to house direct provision centres or other accommodation for asylum seekers.

It has led to concern that current practices are not working as well as they should and a view that a deeper investigation of the system is merited.

The new group will be separate to an interdepartmental group of officials – chaired by the Department of Justice and examining the direct provision system – but will co-operate with it to test policy ideas and potential changes.

Short to medium term

The interdepartmental group on direct provision is examining the services for those in the system, as well as their needs, over the short to medium term.

Ms Day’s groupwill also build on a previous report on direct provision carried out by retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon in 2015.

About 1,400 asylum seekers are in hotels and bed and breakfasts because of a lack of accommodation elsewhere. More than 6,000 people are currently in direct provision centres. About 900 of them have secured refugee status and are entitled to live elsewhere, but they cannot because they are unable to find a home.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said Ms Day’s work has started “as the sharp rise in applications for international protection this year has presented the State with a major issue”. The number of applications are up 53 per cent this year.

He called migration “one of the great challenges of our time” and said Ms Day’s group “will examine international best practice and migration trends and make recommendations” to himself and David Stanton, the Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration.