Asylum seekers waiting nearly two years for decision on protection

Call for people in direct provision more than two years to get five years’ leave to remain

A protest in Dublin in 2015 to mark the 15th anniversary of the direct provision system in Ireland. Photograph: Dave Meehan

A protest in Dublin in 2015 to mark the 15th anniversary of the direct provision system in Ireland. Photograph: Dave Meehan

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Asylum seekers are waiting nearly two years for international protection applications to be processed, despite pledges by the State to cut delays to nine months, the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) has said.

In a report on Wednesday, the council detailed delays in the Irish protection process, which sees male and female asylum seekers waiting about 22.2 months for a decision on their application.

Priority cases are waiting 16.1 months, while those who appeal a negative first decision on their file are waiting nine months for an outcome, the refugee council complained.

Applicants seeking to be united with their families must wait another 12 months for a decision. In all, a refugee who appeals their initial decision could wait for 3½ years for approval to bring their family to Ireland, says the council.

Ireland’s international protection is in need of a “drastic reset”, and the system “remains fraught with administrative delays and substantial backlog” despite the introduction of a single application procedure in 2017, says the council.

“People are living their lives in limbo, residing in unsuitable accommodation for long periods of time and separated from family members who may also be living in danger in their country of origin.”

Making people wait “indefinite periods of time for a decision” that forces them to live with “extreme uncertainty”, while also being unable to plan for the future, says the council. Integration into Irish society is more difficult and they are unable to reunify with family members, it adds.

The council acknowledges the delays caused by the pandemic but notes that most EU countries resumed their international protection procedures in May 2020. “Only Ireland and some areas of Sweden discontinued interviews as a last resort,” it writes.

While the issuing of decisions has now resumed, data from March showed the International Protection Office (IPO) was working through 5,130 cases, with a further 596 cases pending in the ministerial decisions unit.

Stress and depression

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who is currently on maternity leave, warned in January 2021 that efforts to improve processing times had been “seriously impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

There are more than 8,200 adults and children living in direct provision and emergency accommodation centres. Of these, 1,186 adults and 174 children are in emergency accommodation centres.

Testimonies included in the council’s report speak of stress, depression and isolation in centres where people are awaiting a decision.

“It’s as if our souls have been ripped out, living in limbo for five years. It’s not right and fair,” wrote one person. Another said their future was “basically hanging on a thread”.

“It’s like living in jail when you have not committed any crimes never knowing when you will get out,” said another.

The council’s report calls on the Government to introduce, without delay, the recommendation made last year by the direct provision advisory group that people who have spent more than two years in the system be offered five years’ leave to remain.

International protection interviews should be classified as essential and recommence immediately, it notes, adding that in-person interviews are being conducted in a safe manner in many European countries.

The IPO and International Protection Appeals Tribunal must also be given the financial, technological and personnel resources to continue interviews and issue decisions and recommendations “within a reasonable time frame”.

DNA testing to verify family relationships should only be used “as a measure of last resort” when serious doubts remain, while adults whose children were under 18 when they applied for international protection should still be able to bring their children to Ireland under family reunification, even if the child has turned 18 before a final decision was made on their asylum claim.