Asylum: the wait goes on

The UN refugee agency has urged the Government to cut a growing backlog of applications

Ellie Kisyombe, from Dublin, at a rally calling for an end to the direct provision system for asylum seekers. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Ellie Kisyombe, from Dublin, at a rally calling for an end to the direct provision system for asylum seekers. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

The treatment of asylum seekers in this State is so unsatisfactory that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has, once again, intervened on their behalf. This time, it has urged the Government to take immediate action to cut the growing backlog of asylum applications and to speed up the processing system in line with commitments given two years ago.

It took a Supreme Court ruling that the absolute ban on asylum seekers working was unconstitutional to force a grudging response on that front

The reluctance of successive governments to operate a more welcoming system, based on advice from the Department of Justice that doing so could create a “pull factor” for other migrants, is well established. But public opinion forced the last government to establish a commission to examine what improvements could be made.

A 2015 report by former judge Bryan MacMahon recommended a new processing system that would deal with applications within six months, improve financial supports and conditions at direct provision centres and limit the ban on residents working to nine months. In response, the system was changed and improvements were made to living conditions at asylum centres. But it took a Supreme Court ruling that the absolute ban on asylum seekers working was unconstitutional to force a grudging response on that front.

The world is experiencing an unprecedented displacement of populations because of wars, persecutions and hunger

From next June, asylum seekers will receive a restricted right to work. Their living conditions have improved. But the new processing system, which was supposed to cut waiting times to six months, has been starved of resources.

As a consequence, the backlog of applicants rose by more than one thousand, to 5,200, last year. Waiting times for interviews grew to 19 months.

At a time when considerable political and public concern is being expressed about the treatment of illegal Irish immigrants in the United States, surely we can do better than this. The world is experiencing an unprecedented displacement of populations because of wars, persecutions and hunger. As a relatively rich, developed country, Ireland should demonstrate greater generosity.

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