Recent improvements to Ireland's under-pressure direct-provision system could be reversed unless enough space is created for new asylum seekers, the Jesuit Refugee Service has warned.
This week, an Oireachtas committee heard that there are about 1,400 asylum seekers in emergency accommodation and the figure is rising, and will do so more before the end of the year.
More than 6,000 people are currently in direct-provision centres. About 900 people of them have received refugee status and so are entitled to live elsewhere, but they cannot because they are unable to find a home.
Positive changes on foot of the McMahon report have been made to the direct-provision system, including communal areas and better catering, said David Moriarty, assistant director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Ireland.
“There’s a danger in them being rolled back or certainly diminished if there’s not sufficient space within the system to accommodate new arrivals,” Mr Moriarty told The Irish Times.
World Day of Migrants
His warning comes ahead of the Catholic Church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Sunday, when Catholic bishops will urge their flocks to “welcome, protect, promote and integrate” migrants.
In his 2015 report, retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon made 170 recommendations, including the need for asylum decisions to be made within a year, and for asylum seekers to get the right to work after nine months.
The Jesuit Refugee Service in Ireland supports up to 100 asylum seekers and refugees every week, offering skills training for adults and homework and literacy clubs for children.
The services, some of which run in alliance with the Peter McVerry Trust, are on offer at 11 of the 38 direct-provision centres across the country, with offices in Dublin and Limerick.
Eugene Quinn, director of the service in Ireland said applications were being dealt with more quickly: "When the working group started its work, 50 per cent of people were five or more years in the system. Now the average waiting time is around two years. That's a significant improvement but it's still short of the 12-month time frame which was ultimate aim.
“Those improvements in processing times, people moving through the system much more quickly, it’s being undermined if there’s nowhere for people to move out to.”
The Ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, said this week that a lot of concerns raised about direct-provision centres prior to their opening had not transpired and they were operating in "a reasonably settled way".
Protests have taken place recently in the Co Galway town of Oughterard over concerns about the Connemara Gateway Hotel becoming a direct-provision centre.
Mr Quinn added: "Migrants contribute a lot to society, they fill gaps in the labour market and even an OECD study shows that migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.
“Often there’s a lot of misinformation leading to some suspicion or prejudice against migrants, so it’s really important to get correct information out.”