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Historic proposals to asylum seeker system announced

Ireland’s highly controversial Direct Provision asylum seeker system is to be reformed fully by 2024, in a White Paper published by the government last week, promising a radical overhaul of the old system.

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    Major overhaul of the Direct Provision system

    Ireland’s Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, made the announcement at the long-awaited publishing of the White Paper on the asylum seeker system.

    The announcement was cautiously welcomed by campaigners who have condemned the system as cruel to people claiming asylum in Ireland’s accommodation centres.

    The plan puts forward a new approach to supporting people from asylum seeker backgrounds when they arrive in Ireland while their asylum claims are processing. The goal is to ensure no applicant spends longer than four months in a new State-owned, not-for-profit centre.

    The government has outlined that the new system will embed a person-centred approach to ensure that dignity and respect for human lives are upheld.

    New plans for accommodation

    The current plan is to eliminate the current conditions of overcrowding and inappropriate facilities in favour of a two-phase approach.

    The first phase will see asylum seeker applicants living in a State-run centre for a maximum of four months. The second phase will be a move to independent living accommodation run by an approved housing body.

    The cost of the first phase is estimated to be €281 million, while the second phase should be approximately €391 million.

    Improved services and supports for asylum seekers

    Minister O’Gorman stated that the objective of the White Paper was to become a more compassionate country in its treatment of vulnerable members of our society.

    Further supports are to be offered to people applying for asylum seeker status, including health, education, childcare service, working and legal aid advice services.

    There are also plans for a ‘bespoke allowance’ to be provided to allow people to support themselves while awaiting a decision on their asylum case.

    The White Paper also set out the need to reduce asylum application waiting times to a maximum of six months and recommended engaging additional resources to enable this.

    Asylum system labelled ‘inhuman and degrading’

    The original system, known as Direct Provision, was run by a for-profit organisation and was compared to an ‘open prison’ system. It has been highly controversial and labelled as not fit for purpose.

    Introduced in 1999 as an interim way of managing the reception and integration needs for asylum seeker applicants, the system had been in need of a major restructure. By April 2020, there were 7,400 men, women and children living in the Direct Provision system. Many of these people have had their claims refused and are seeking appeals.

    For people seeking asylum in Ireland, the harsh restrictions mean that the quality of life of people in the system is extremely difficult. Adults are entitled to a weekly allowance of €38.80, a limited right to work and no right to higher education. In the majority of cases, it is not permitted for centre residents to cook food and there is limited privacy in the rooms, with families living in cramped conditions.

    The average length of stay for a person in Direct Provision is two years, with many people spending up to ten years waiting for an asylum decision to be granted.

    Mental health concerns of asylum seekers in Ireland

    A 2017 study published by the Irish College of Psychiatrists found that migrants and people seeking asylum were ten times more likely to suffer from PTSD and three times more likely to suffer from psychosis than the average Irish population.

    Similarly, children living in Direct Provision are more likely to present to healthcare professionals with stress-related illnesses as a result of the living conditions in the system.

    Reaction to the White Paper

    The reaction to the news of the new system has been greeted with cautious optimism from activists, legal experts, and people living in Direct Provision.

    The co-founder of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), Lucky Khambule, stated that based on the track record of the government in this area, he said it was not a good idea to “get too excited” until the changes have been enacted.

    Dr Bryan McMahon was the author of a 2015 report on Direct Provision. He stated that people who come to Ireland in search of international protection “deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion.”

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    White paper

    The White Paper outlines major reforms to the existing Direct Provision system for the reception and accommodation needs of asylum seekers in Ireland. [Image: Unsplash]