State spends €700m on asylum system over past five years

Campaigners argue that costs illustrate a pressing need to change an unwieldy system

Costs arise mostly from accommodation and legal fees in direct provision system. Photograph: The Irish Times

Costs arise mostly from accommodation and legal fees in direct provision system. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

The State has spent more than €700 million in the past five years on accommodation costs and legal fees for people seeking refugee or protection status in Ireland, new figures show.

The costs arise mostly from the much-criticised direct provision system in which applicants have spent up to a decade or more waiting for their status to be resolved.

Campaigners say the cost of the system underscores the need to introduce a streamlined approach to processing claims for protection.

Greg Stratton of the Spirasi support group said: “It makes much more sense to invest money in reforming our decision-making system . . . A streamlined system would be fairer, cheaper and still maintain our international protection obligations.”

A Government working group report published earlier this month advocated a major overhaul of the protection process. It also recommends that more than 3,000 people who have been in the system for five years or more should be “fast-tracked” to residency.

However, Fine Gael TD John Deasy, who obtained the figures on asylum costs, cautioned against any major reform at a time when Europe is grappling with surge in asylum applicants in the Mediterranean.

‘Pull factor’

“We need to consider the risk of changing the system and creating what the Department of Justice calls a ‘pull factor’,” Mr Deasy said. “People have made reasonable points about changing our current system, but now is not the time to do so.”

Mr Deasy added that he was in favour of accepting “genuine” asylum seekers fleeing areas of conflict such as Syria and Eritrea, but many of those crossing into Europe were economic migrants.

Of the €700million-plus spent on the asylum system in recent years, about €40 million has been on legal fees.

The remainder has been spent mostly on the direct provision system, which houses 4,300 asylum seekers.

Government Ministers have pledged to introduce recommendations contained in the working group report by the end of July this year. But campaign groups say they are disappointed so far at what they say is a lack of progress.

In recent days they launched a website, Timetoact.ie, to highlight the length of time it will take to implement the recommendations.

Waiting anxiously

Stephen Ng’ang’a, an asylum seeker who was involving in drawing up the report, said many are waiting anxiously for news.

“Many of us have been living in limbo with our lives on hold in direct provision for too long,” he said. “The solution recommended for persons who have been in the system for more than five years will assist many to finally exit the system. All that is required is the political courage to act.”

Differences have emerged between Government ministers over the implementation of the report.

While Labour TD and Minister of State at the Department of Justice Aodhán Ó Riordáin has said there is a “moral obligation” to act, his Fine Gael colleague Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said the recommendations provide “food for thought”.

In her response to Mr Deasy’s parliamentary question, Ms Fitzgerald emphasised there were no cheaper alternatives to the direct provision system and that a system based on rent supplement and other benefits could cost twice as much.

“Moreover such a system would amount to a major pull factor which in turn would give rise to further costs which, based on patterns, would likely to be very significant,” she said, in the response.