Vulnerability assessments for asylum seekers ‘urgently’ needed, says Refugee Council

HSE should conduct these and not International Protection Office, says council

Vulnerability assessments for asylum seekers arriving into the Irish State must be implemented without delay, the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) has said.

The IRC, which has been calling on the State to introduce these assessments for two years, underlined on Thursday that children must be prioritised once these “urgently” needed tests are introduced.

Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman announced last month that a “formal system of vulnerability assessments” would start in December. However, there has been no further clarity or details released about where these assessments will take place and who will conduct them.

The IRC has recommended that the assessments be carried out by the HSE and advised against relying on the International Protection Office to oversee the process, warning that it could lead to a “potential conflict of interest”.


A vulnerability assessment is carried out when a person first arrives into a country seeking asylum to identify any special needs they may have. It is particularly important among minors, people with disabilities, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents, victims of human trafficking, people with serious illnesses or mental health issues and those who have been subjected to torture, rape or another form of psychological, physical or sexual violence.

The goal of the assessment is to ensure people are housed in adequate living conditions and receive necessary supports while awaiting a decision on their asylum application.

Ireland is legally obliged to conduct these assessments within 30 days of a person's arrival under the Reception Conditions Directive which was transposed into Irish law in June 2018.

The council's chief executive Nick Henderson accused the State last year of breaking national and international law by failing to carry out these assessments.

Mr Henderson noted this week that nearly 7,000 people had applied for protection in Ireland since vulnerability assessments became mandatory two years ago yet they still do not take place.

People whose specific needs are not identified and responded to at an early stage “face additional challenges” engaging with the asylum process, he warned.

The failure to carry out these assessments meant when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its height, information on who were the most vulnerable people in direct provision was not available, said the council.

As a result, the HSE and Government had to rely on direct provision residents, centre managers and local NGOs to identify those most at risk of contracting the virus, it added.

While the Government has said it will introduce these assessments by the end of 2020, no formal commitment has been made around access to drivers licences for asylum seekers, another issue which has been repeatedly flagged by refugee support groups in recent years.

Mr O'Gorman said in October that Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan would bring forward the relevant amendments to the Road Traffic Act to allow for licences as part of the Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill by the end of the year. Asked for further details, a special advisor to the minister for children said a working group had been set up to establish a new framework of regulations which would enable asylum seekers to apply for a driving licence.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

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