Lack of cooking facilities and travel expenses still problem for asylum seekers

Ombudsman report reviews 24 direct provision centres and three EROCs in Ireland

Asylum seekers at the Mosney direct provision centre. The ombudsman received 97 formal complaints last year and flags the installation of cooking facilities in centres as the “single most important issue for residents”. Photograph: Alan Betson

Asylum seekers at the Mosney direct provision centre. The ombudsman received 97 formal complaints last year and flags the installation of cooking facilities in centres as the “single most important issue for residents”. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The provision of cooking facilities, travel expenses for medical and legal appointments, and engagement between staff and residents continue to pose major problems in direct provision centres across the State, the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, Peter Tyndall, has said.

In his review of the 24 direct provision centres and three emergency reception and orientation centres since last April, Mr Tyndall reports a wide disparity in the standard of services on offer to asylum seekers across the State.

The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: The Story So Far report follows Mr Justice Bryan McMahon’s recommendation that the ombudsman examine complaints from direct provision residents.

The ombudsman received 97 formal complaints last year and flags the installation of cooking facilities in centres as the “single most important issue for residents”, saying the provision of these facilities in other centres had been “overwhelmingly positively received”.

Complaints were also raised over the attitude of canteen staff in centres, particularly in regard to specific dietary needs, canteen opening hours and the absence of self-cooking facilities.

A lack of engagement between staff and residents at male-only centres and an 'institutional lethargy' among residents in the system for many years were also highlighted

Many residents reported feeling too scared to make complaints for fear of being “singled out as troublemakers” or “persecution in some other way”. They were also worried they could be involuntarily transferred to another centre for making a complaint.

The report warns that in some cases, requests for additional financial support – in addition to the €21.60 weekly allowance – to cover transport costs for medical or legal appointments were “habitually” refused.

Voluntary deportation

The ombudsman expressed concern over the ability of residents to request a transfer from one centre to another in order to be closer to family members, education or training opportunities.

While most refusals were because of a lack of space, the ombudsman encouraged the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) to hold on to applications for families to be housed together until a suitable vacancy arose.

A lack of engagement between staff and residents at male-only centres and an “institutional lethargy” among residents who have been in the system for many years were also highlighted.

Managers in some of these male-only centres said they had arranged trips, events and access to sports facilities but that only a handful of residents took part.

Residents complained about the amount of dental treatment available through the medical card, with many new arrivals requiring treatment far in excess of what is covered

The ombudsman also investigated the distribution of letters to 23 residents facing deportation orders last year which indicated they must leave their centre by a certain date. He reported the letters were sent out to encourage residents to agree to voluntary deportation and that he was satisfied they were not an attempt by the RIA to “forcibly remove” any person.

Unrealistic expectations

The ombudsman report also included an inspection of the three emergency centres set up since 2015 to house people arriving in Ireland from Lebanon, Greece and Italy.

While residents in one of these centres reported feeling “incredibly satisfied with the service”, people in the others underlined the “unrealistic expectations” they were given before arriving in Ireland of how long it would take to be housed in the community and have their health needs addressed.

Residents also complained about the amount of dental treatment available through the medical card, with many new arrivals requiring treatment far in excess of what is covered. While residents were given the option of contacting the Office of the Principal Dental Surgeon for additional treatment, none have engaged with the office to date.

There were a total of 5,096 men, women and children living in direct provision centres in Ireland by the end of December, with people spending an average of two years in the system.