The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has said it will not increase the daily expenses allowance for asylum seekers following a request for the weekly payment to be temporarily increased by €20 during the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than 40 organisations, legal professionals and academics working with asylum seekers in Ireland wrote to the Minister for Employment and Social protection Regina Doherty in early May asking for additional financial support for people in direct provision during the health crisis.
The group expressed concern that people seeking protection were not entitled to the State’s short term Covid-19 financial support and that they remained “exceptionally vulnerable” during the crisis.
Many asylum seekers are facing additional costs including increased spending on children who would normally be at school, cleaning items, medicine and food, said the letter to the minister. Many direct provision residents who would usually use free Wi-Fi in libraries, are spending more money on mobile data to access public health guidance online, it added.
The letter also urged the department to reconsider its decision not to make the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) available to people in direct provision.
While some asylum seekers who lost work because of the coronavirus initially received the State support measure, payments to people living in direct provision stopped after a couple of weeks and residents were put back on the €38.80 weekly allowance (€155.20 per month) for adults in the asylum system. Children in direct provision receive €29.80 each week.
In a letter dated May 15th and seen by The Irish Times, Ms Doherty responded that there were no plans to reinstate the Covid-19 payment to asylum seekers in direct provision who had lost work.
Any increases to the rate of the daily expenses allowance would have to be approved by Government and “considered in a budgetary context”, she said.
Protection applicants living in direct provision receive food, accommodation and other services as well as the weekly allowance while the PUP is paid to “people, who in most cases, have no other source of income”, said Ms Doherty in the letter.
Asylum seekers living outside direct provision are eligible for PUP, she added.
The minister noted that under measures introduced in response to the pandemic, asylum seekers could stay with friends or family on a temporary basis while retaining their place within the accommodation system and continuing to receive the weekly stipend.
Asylum seekers can also access exceptional needs payments, with payments made at the discretion of officers administering the scheme, she said. Any asylum seeker who requires financial assistance should contact the community welfare service that deals with their accommodation centre, added the minister.
Irish Refugee Council director Nick Henderson said he was disappointed by the minister's response and that the group would continue to campaign for the increased financial support.
An additional €20 per week would enable direct provision residents to buy extra hand sanitiser, face masks, phone data or home schooling tools, said Mr Henderson. “Rejecting this request on the grounds that it is a budgetary matter and would need to be approved by Government ignores the seismic changes that have already been made to this year’s budget,” he said. “Increasing the allowance by this amount would go some way in showing we truly are all in this together.”