Justice ‘not the appropriate department’ to support asylum seekers

Culture of ‘disbelieving survivors’ exists when dealing with asylum seekers, says ICCL

The Department of Justice is not appropriately equipped to provide accommodation, health and social services to people in direct provision who are “effectively, living in punitive detention”, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said.

The council’s submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, co-written with Dr Maeve O’Rourke from the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway, highlights the need for unannounced inspections of direct provision centres to ensure the rights of residents are respected.

The report follows a presentation made by the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) last week to the Oireachtas justice committee in which the group called for the system of direct provision to be abolished and replaced with a scheme which would provide asylum seekers with housing support via local authorities.

The group also called for immediate and unrestricted access to the labour market for all asylum seekers and free access to education for students in the asylum process.


The ICCL agreed that residents in direct provision are faced with a series of human rights abuses including barriers in accessing work, denial of the right to education and cruel inhuman or degrading treatment. Asylum seekers’ rights to health, right to privacy and right to an international protection system without excessive delays are also being violated, while suicides among direct provision residents is becoming increasingly concerning, added the report.

Punitive detention

It criticised the department for its failure to reform the asylum system, arguing that it is not the appropriate body to support asylum seekers. Testimonies of people living in direct provision clearly convey that they are “effectively, living in punitive detention”, it noted.

The system bears “many similarities to the abusive systems of institutionalisation that operated in Ireland throughout the 20th century” and “we believe that the fact of placing responsibility for direct provision in the Department of Justice contributes to this penal culture and practice”.

Referencing the department’s ex gratia scheme for Magdalene Laundry survivors, the council argued that there was a “culture of disbelieving survivors” within the department and of “going overboard to protect against fraudulent claims”.

Given Ireland’s history of “grave and systematic abuse in institutions”, it should be obvious that the State cannot support individuals by outsourcing social service provisions to “private, largely unaccountable, commercial entities”, it noted.

The report contended that direct provision amounted to the “de facto deprivation of liberty” and that people were “not free to leave” the system because it is the only source of State support while awaiting a decision on an asylum application. People in direct provision do not receive a travel pass and must rely on “sparsely provided bus transport” while it is generally not possible for them to secure an Irish driver’s licence, it added.

‘Socially isolated’

The ICCL and Dr O’Rourke add that people in direct provision are “socially isolated” and must live under “constant supervision and control”.

Following the MASI presentation last week, the Oireachtas Justice Committee should carry out unannounced visits to centres, be accompanied by interpreters, conduct private interviews with residents and ensure that it established the whereabouts of all direct provision centres including “emergency” housing, said the ICCL.

The council also urged the State to ratify the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture to ensure people who are deprived of their liberty are not left powerless without the protection of independent, human rights-focused inspections of the system.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast