Direct provision must be overhauled, report says

Review on the system’s future warns it is essential long delays in asylum process end

Dr Bryan McMahon, who is the chairman of the Working Group on the Protection Process and Direct Provision. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dr Bryan McMahon, who is the chairman of the Working Group on the Protection Process and Direct Provision. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Long delays in the asylum process must end and asylum seekers should have greater access to education and employment if the State wants to create a “genuinely humane system”, a report into the future of direct provision has found.

The Beyond McMahon report, published on Monday, calls for an “ambitious, systematic and accountable” overhaul of direct provision informed by the voices of the people who have experienced, or who are experiencing, the protection system in Ireland.

Published by the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre (Nasc), in collaboration with University College Cork, the report follows a conference held in April 2018 to assess the changes made to direct provision since the previous McMahon report.

The Working Group on the Protection Process and Direct Provision, chaired by retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon, published 173 recommendations in June 2015 which included ensuring asylum seekers received a decision on their application within 12 months and that they be given the right to work.

In June 2018, the Government introduced legislation which enabled asylum seekers who had not had a first decision made on their refugee status to apply for work. Some 1,743 people had been granted access to the labour market under the new regulation by the end of November 2018.

There are currently 6,130 adults and children living in direct provision and other emergency accommodation centres.

While a number of changes have been made since 2015, including improved cooking facilities and an increase in both children’s and adult’s allowances, the new Nasc report warns that the “big ticket items”– workable access to the labour market for asylum seekers, an end to delays in the application process and the improvement of accommodation standards – have not been fully addressed.

In December 2017, Nasc argued that the Government had failed to implement nearly half the recommendations made by the McMahon report, despite claims by the Department of Justice that 98 per cent of recommendations had been introduced or were in progress.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan also said at the time that there had been a “radical improvement” in the length of time people spend in direct provision.

Nasc’s Fiona Hurley says direct provision has created a “legacy of decay” and that despite the introduction of the 2015 International Protection Act, which sought to speed up the application system, people are still waiting on average 18-20 months for an initial hearing on their status.

She also warned that the number of undecided cases had increased from 1,550 in 2016 to 5,100 in 2017.

Access to third-level education and the labour market were also flagged in the new report as “essential steps” towards a more human reception system.

“Work, like education, not only enables economic self-sufficiency, but helps to retain key skills while waiting for a decision,” notes the report.

‘No alternative’

Defending the system, Eugene Banks from the Reception and Integration Agency said that despite its flaws, direct provision centres provided “essential initial accommodation and subsistence” for asylum seekers. He added that “no realistic alternative” had been proposed to replace the system.

Stephen Ng’ang’a, a member of the 2015 working group, underlined that barriers such as opening a bank account or applying for a driving licence were preventing many from finding work. Mr Ng’ang’a proposed the introduction of more private accommodation rather than communal reception centres, adding that the core of the reception system should be “human dignity”.

Luke Hamilton from the Irish Refugee Council suggested that the Government examine systems in other countries such as Sweden which provides self-catering apartments and on-site transport within its reception facilities.

He also called for the establishment of a not-for-profit tendering model for reception centres and a dedicated housing body to oversee accommodation provision. Concerns were also raised around the struggle to find housing outside direct provision once people received international protection status.