Photo: A day of action against Direct Provision Photo credit: Irish Refugee Council.
Between 1993 and 2000, the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland went from 6 a year to just fewer than 11,000 a year. Rory Halpin of SPIRASI takes a look for Focus 93.
In the late 90s, as a means of dealing with the unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers, the Irish State set up the Direct Provision system. Through this system, asylum seekers receive full board accommodation and personal allowances of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child per week. While they wait for a decision with regard to their applications asylum seekers are forbidden to work and have only limited access to education. One asylum seeker says, “I am a qualified medical doctor. At least I was when I left my country 4 years ago. I would now have to retrain if I was to work as a doctor. I feel I am wasting my life away. I want to work. I want to contribute”.
The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) is the government agency that was set up to manage and run the system of Direct Provision. At the end of June 2013 there were a total of 34 accommodation centres spread throughout 16 counties. These housed approximately 4,600 asylum seekers, 1,500 of which were children. Of these 34 only three were ‘purpose built’ with the rest comprising of former hotels, hostels, convents and holiday camps. The result is that residents are often living in over-crowded situations with little or no privacy and inadequate facilities, especially for children. One woman, who has been in Direct Provision for 3 years, comments, “I have seen children acting out in a sexual way. They obviously see the things their parents are doing because there is too much overcrowding – this is just not right”.
It is fair to say that Direct Provision was set up with the intention of being a temporary accommodation solution, the thinking being that asylum seekers would be in the system no longer than a year. However, because of limited resources and a widely acknowledged inadequate legal framework, delays in processing asylum applications are both commonplace and prolonged, to the extent that people often have to wait several years for a definitive decision. The human suffering caused by these delays is not to be underestimated. Deterioration in both mental and physical health of asylum seekers is well documented, with elevated levels of depression and anxiety the most common ill effects. As one young man put it, ‘Sometimes I think we would be better off in prison. At least in prison you know when you’re going to be released’.
The solution to this is twofold. Firstly, to improve the legal system so that processing applications is accelerated. In this regard it is to be hoped that the proposed ‘Single Protection Procedure’ bill which has been in process since 2006 is enacted as a matter of urgency. Secondly, enough resources should be given to the 4,600 asylum seekers currently in Direct Provision so that their legal process can be expedited as soon as possible to allow people resume lives, whether here or back in their countries of origin, that have been put on hold.