The warm welcome given to Ukrainian refugees by the Government proves that the State has been capable of providing a more compassionate support system for asylum seekers, a leading migrant rights activist has said.
Lucky Khambule, co-founder of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, said the decision to immediately support Ukrainians fleeing the war while migrants from Middle Eastern and African countries wait years for decisions on their asylum claims reveals a "glaring inequality" in the immigration system.
“We appreciate what the Government is doing in response to the Ukrainian crisis but we’re feeling the hypocrisy,” he said.
“They’ve bent their backs over to help people in this European crisis which proves to use there was always more they could do. If the attitude was right they would find spaces for asylum seekers very quickly.”
There are currently 8,205 people, including 2,658 children, in direct provision and emergency accommodation centres across Ireland, according to the latest Government data, with many in the system for years.
The Government expects 20,000 Ukrainian refugees to have arrived in the State by the end of this month.
Mr Khambule added: "We've had the Syrian refugee crisis, the Afghan refugee crisis, there's Yemen, there's Ethiopia, there's Libya – all these are conflict zones but we've never seen an effort from the Government like this.
“The world is praising Ireland for taking this stance but they need look into the backyard at what is happening to others.”
He said that before the Russian invasion left Ukrainian refugees fleeing, asylum seekers who arrived in Ireland last year were feeling “alarmed and neglected”.
He said many were spending months in hotels before receiving their temporary residence certificate (TRC), with children in these hotels not attending school .
Asylum seekers cannot secure a PPS number or receive their daily expenses allowance until they have a TRC card.
John Lannon, chief executive of migrant rights group Doras, said Ukrainians who have just arrived in Ireland and are staying in emergency accommodation centres are being processed quickly and receiving supplementary welfare without delay, while asylum seekers must wait up to six months for processing.
“That’s fundamentally wrong – the phrase two-tier system has been used a lot in the past fortnight,” he said.
"We've shown now what we can do when the political will is there , but we still have obligations to people from any part of the world under international law. We shouldn't be applying different standards. If we can do it for Ukraine we should be doing it for Afghanistan and Syria, or people fleeing torture from places like the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)."
Mr Lannon also expressed concern that the focus on Ukrainian refugees may result in the Government losing sight of its goal to end direct provision by 2024.
The number of asylum seekers seeking protection in Ireland rose sharply late last year, with 2,260 new arrivals registered between November 1st and January 30th last, according to Department of Children and Equality figures.
A spokeswoman for the department said work was continuing to accommodate asylum seekers and that a tender process had been completed to “provide additional capacity for applicants of international protection”.
Work to implement the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision is also continuing through a dedicated transition team within IPAS (International Protection Accommodation Services), she added.
She said the majority of the team employed within the Irish Refugee Protection Programme to support Afghan and Syrian refugees had not been assigned to undertake duties in relation to people fleeing war in Ukraine.