Direct provision complaints to Ombudsman slide

Highest number of grievances from residents looking to be transferred to another centre

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall welcomed last month’s publication of the White Paper for ending direct provision. File photograph: The Irish Times

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall welcomed last month’s publication of the White Paper for ending direct provision. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

More than 60 complaints were made to the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall last year by direct provision residents.

These included concerns about the movement of people between centres during the pandemic and allegations that staff were not ensuring compliance with Covid-19 health guidelines.

Research published on Thursday shows the number of complaints about direct provision made to the ombudsman in 2020 fell more than 60 per cent, down from 168 complaints in 2019 to 61 last year. The ombudsman attributed this fall to staff being unable to meet people in-person at direct provision centres because of travel restrictions and warned outreach visits had been “significantly” curtailed and “hindered” during the pandemic.

The best way for direct provision residents to air their grievances is through face-to-face interaction, he said, adding that visits would recommence in 2021.

More than 40 per cent of complaints last year (25 grievances) were about requests to transfer to another centre. The ombudsman acknowledged that all transfers, aside from emergency situations, had been suspended during the pandemic for public health reasons but argued that requests should continue to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Complaints were also made to the ombudsman when the International Protection Accommodation Service (Ipas) relocated more than 600 people over three weeks last spring to support social and physical distancing in centres. Residents said they were not given enough enough notice about the move or where in the country they were going. When contacted by the ombudsman, Ipas said efforts were made to inform people about the move in advance but that the urgency of the situation meant decisions had to be taken quickly to minimise the risk of residential infection.

Residents also voiced concerns about inadequate social distancing measures at centres resulting in “unavoidable congregation of residents” in dining and communal areas. The ombudsman noted there was an onus on management to ensure appropriate steps were taken to keep residents and staff safe but added there was “an equal onus on residents and staff to follow those steps”.

He also received complaints from residents who saw their application for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment rejected after they were laid off work. The Government initially said last spring the payment would not be made available to people in direct provision but subsequently backtracked in August, saying residents could receive it and would be paid retrospectively from when they had been laid off.

Right to work

Complaints were also made by residents unable to accept work because they could not obtain a driving licence, while others said they could not open a bank account after finding a job. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has warned discriminatory barriers such as accessing a driving licence and opening a bank account continue to undermine an asylum seekers’ right to work.

The ombudsman said he was engaging with the Department of Transport on the driving licence issue while Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman expressed confidence last month that transport legislation which would enable asylum seekers apply for driving licences would pass soon.

The commission has also said international protection applicants are legally entitled to open a bank account using their Temporary Residence Certificate as identification despite the head of the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland’s claim that asylum seekers do not have “acceptable identification documents” for opening an account.

The ombudsman welcomed last month’s publication of the White Paper for ending direct provision. He reiterated his call for people to be provided with own-door accommodation while awaiting a decision on their application.

He also warned that most applicants continue to be housed in centres where dining facilities or self-cooking areas are shared by residents, placing them and staff at higher risk of contracting the virus.