Q&A: What is direct provision?

Everything you need to know but were afraid to ask about direct provision and asylum seekers

Direct provision is in the news again with a new report by the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, Peter Tyndall, examining complaints from direct provision residents.

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.

But how does direct provision work, and how does it impact the lives of asylum seekers? We answer all your questions on Ireland’s direct provision system.

What is direct provision?


The direct provision system was established in 2000 to house asylum seekers entering the Irish State in search of international protection. It was initially described as an “interim” system which would provide accommodation for a six month period while people awaited an outcome on their application.

How many people are living in direct provision centres?

There were 5,096 men, women and children, including 801 families, living in the 34 direct provision centres across 17 counties in Ireland by the end of December 2017. These include 31 accommodation centres, two self-catering centres and one reception centre in Balseskin in Finglas.

The total capacity for all centres is 5,503 people, meaning centres were 93 per cent full by the end of last year.

How long are people spending in direct provision?

Residents were spending an average of 23 months in direct provision by the end of December 2017, while 432 people had been in the system for five years of more. In 2015 the average length of stay was 38 months and in 2016 it dropped to 32 months.

How old are the people living in direct provision and how many children are there?

There are currently 1,420 children under the age of 18 living in direct provision centres. Of these, there are 535 children aged four or under, 659 children aged between 5-12 and 226 children aged 13-17. More than a third of all residents are aged between 26-35, while 104 residents are aged 56 or older.

Can people living in direct provision cook their own food?

Some centres, like Mosney in Co Meath, have fully self-catering accommodation where residents can cook their own meals. Other centres have more limited cooking facilities where residents can cook on hobs in a communal area. The remainder of centres provide canteen style food over a counter. In his report into the direct provision system, Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall said he had received many complaints about the quality of food and the way it is prepared and presented in centres. There were also complaints over the attitude of canteen staff, particularly when dealing with residents who have specific dietary needs. Mr Tyndall noted that residents come from different countries, backgrounds and religions and flagged the installation of cooking facilities at all centres as the “single most important issue for residents”.

Are asylum seekers allowed to work yet?

Not yet, but soon. On February 9th the Supreme Court will formally declare the ban preventing asylum seekers form working as unconstitutional. From this day asylum seekers will have the right to apply for an employment permit under the Employment Permits Act 2003. Meanwhile, the Government is planning to opt into the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive which addresses the right to work of asylum seekers. The Department of Justice will have four months from February 9th to show the European Commission it is compliant with the directive. At the end of this period the directive is scheduled to become law.

What restrictions are there in this new right to work system?

While the decision to opt into the EU reception directive is supposed to allow asylum seekers to work, numerous restrictions under the Employment Permits Acts means it will be extremely difficult for most people in the protection system to find work. Under the Act, applicants must secure a job that pays a starting salary of at least €30,000 per annum and must also pay between €500 to €1,000 for a six to 12 month employment permit. Applicants are unable to apply for a job in more than 60 different areas including positions in hospitality, healthcare, social work, childcare, general care services, marketing, sales, administration, textiles, printing, housekeeping, food and construction.

Where do people in direct provision come from?

The majority of residents in centres last year came from Pakistan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Albania, Malawi, South Africa, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Syria (in that order). Another 84 nationalities were also represented in the centres.

What is the weekly allowance for residents in direct provision?

Adults receive a personal allowance of €21.60 per week. Children also receive an allowance of €21.60 per week. The weekly allowance was raised from €19.10 for adults and €15.60 for children in August 2017.

Can asylum seekers living in direct provision move into third level education after school?

In general asylum seekers are not entitled to free third level (university or college) education. School leavers who have been in the system for five years and meet certain criteria are allowed to apply for a grant to continue their studies under the Pilot Support Scheme. A number of Irish third level institutions have recently been designated as universities of Sanctuary which offer scholarships to asylum seeker students. These include Dublin City University, University of Limerick and University College Cork.

How many applications for asylum were submitted to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner in 2017?

There were 2,927 applications for refugee status in 2017, up from 2,244 in 2016. The number of asylum applications peaked in 2002 with 11,634 submitted that year. More than half of applicants in 2017 were single men and 15 per cent were single women.

What are EROCs?

Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROCs) were opened at three locations across Ireland in 2016 and 2017 after the Irish Government agreed to accept up to 4,000 people under the EU Relocation and Resettlement programmes. The centres are part of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme which was set up in 2015 in response to humanitarian crisis in southern Europe and migration of people from the Middle East and Africa.

How are EROCs different to direct provision centres?

The people living in the EROC centres have come to Ireland either under the resettlement or relocation strands of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.

A total of 1,014 people are expected to have arrived in Ireland by the end of March 2018 under the relocation strand which brings men, women and children from refugee camps in Greece and Italy. Once in Ireland they apply for international protection (asylum).

The 623 people due to arrive from Italy have not yet been accepted due to diplomatic issues. The Department of Justice has said that any shortfall in numbers arriving from Greece and Italy will be met by taking in additional programme refugees or through family reunification.

Some 792 people have arrived in Ireland under the European Commission’s resettlement scheme. These people come from countries like Lebanon and Jordan and are brought directly to Ireland with the help of the UN Refugee Agency. Unlike the relocation strand, those who come to Ireland under resettlement arrive with refugee status. Ireland had committed to accept 1,040 refugees under resettlement by the end of 2017 but recently announced it would take a further 345 people in 2018 bringing the total to 1,385. The Minister has also pledged to accept a further 600 programme refugees in 2019.*

Where are these EROCs and how many people live there?

There are three registered EROCs in the State: The Hazel Hotel In Monasterevin, Co Kildare; Abbeyfield Hotel in Ballaghadereen, Co Roscommon and Clonlea Strand Hotel in Dungarvan, Co Waterford. The Department of Justice said in January there were 114 people in the Hazel Hotel, 112 in Clonlea Strand and 170 in Ballaghaderreen. It reported that 193 people were living in Co Meath under the EROC system, presumably in the Mosney direct provision centre which houses some arrivals under the relocation programme.

More than 800 of these programme refugees have been settled in 14 counties across Ireland; Clare, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Leitrim, Louth, Limerick, Mayo, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo, Westmeath and Wexford.

*This article previously noted that a total of 1,089 people had already arrived in Ireland under the relocation strand based on commitments made by the Department of Justice in late 2017. It also wrote that 1,040 people had arrived under the resettlement scheme based on similar commitments. However, only 792 of these 1,040 have arrived to date.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

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