State fears alternative to direct provision will attract asylum seekers

Minister says system is ‘inhumane’ but says changes will require Government support

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen calls on the Government to establish female-only and family-only reception centres and grant the right to seek employment. Legislation to change Ireland's direct provision system was proposed today, September 17th.

 

Internal Government briefing material claims any alternative to the direct provision system for asylum seekers may result in a “pull factor” for those seeking to abuse the asylum system.

Government senators were circulated with a nine-page position paper yesterday which acknowledges the system is “not perfect”, but makes a strong case against changing direct provision.

The material, seen by The Irish Times and drawn up by Department of Justice officials, states that the common travel area between Ireland and Britain would “possibly be abused by those using the asylum system to avail of better State provision here”.

It also states the number of asylum claims is up 40 per cent on the same period last year, while the cost of facilitating asylum seekers to live independently – with access to regular social welfare payments – would be double the cost of the direct provision system.

The Seanad yesterday heard a debate over a private member’s motion by Senator Rónán Mullen (Ind) which called on the Government to make sweeping reforms to the system.

Working group<

Among his proposed changes were establishing female-only and family-only reception centres and granting the right to seek employment for asylum seekers after four years.

“People in prison have a date on the door. People in direct provision do not. They don’t know when they will have the freedom to do the simple ordinary things of life like cook a meal or get a family pet,” he said.

Government parties rejected the motion on the basis that it pre-empts the findings of a working group which is being established to review aspects of the direct provision system.

The group – which includes Minister of State Aodhán Ó Riordáin and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald – is due to hold its first meeting on Thursday.

Mr Ó Riordáin told the Seanad a debate on the issue was long overdue and it was no secret he had many difficulties with the direct provision system.

“ I have described the system as inhumane and I do not resile from that description. I am entitled to hold that view even if it may conflict with the views of others in Government,” he said.

He said “no click of my fingers is going to end it immediately” and any recommended changes flowing from the working group report will require Government approval.

But he added: “I can say to this House and to those outside it that change can take place more rapidly than anyone has thought previously through the working group review mechanism.”

Refusal rate

Senator Hildegarde Naughton (FG) said recent disquiet among asylum seekers and support organisations was understandable, given the length of time people were spending in the system.

But she said key facts needed to be considered, such as a 90 per cent refusal rate for asylum appeals over the past 10 years.

“I feel that sometimes the impression is given that we are discussing actual refugees when in the vast majority of cases what we are discussing are economic migrants or those applying for some other form of leave to remain,” she said.

“Additional to this is the fact that over 50 per cent of those in direct provision have judicial review proceedings pending or in train, having deportation orders pending or are applying for leave to remain for non-protection reasons.”

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said there was an impression that asylum seekers were often low-skilled individuals, when many were highly qualified lawyers, doctors or teachers who had sought asylum here to escape hostile conditions in their home countries.

Overall, more than 4,000 asylum seekers, including 1,600 children, live in 34 reception centres – mostly former hostels or hotels – under the direct provision system.

The average length of stay is almost four years, although some have been living in the system for anything up to 14 years.