With significant immigration reform promised for 2014, most specifically with respect to the Immigration, Residence, and Protection Bill, many have called for changes to the State’s direct provision system. Direct provision is a system designed to provide for the welfare of asylum seekers and their families on a “no choice” basis while awaiting application decisions. Composed of a monitored network of institutional buildings, local hostels, hotels, and guest houses, direct provision provides room and board, medial care, and a nominal personal allowance for asylum seekers and their families.
The system was originally instated in April of 2000 and aimed to house asylum seekers for approximately 6 months while their application was processed. Today, however, most spend between three to seven years in direct provision, most often in accommodation that were never meant for long term living. With 35 centres spread across the country, living conditions vary, however most require shared housing for single applicants, single rooms for families, and scheduled meals three times a day. They also prohibit applicants from seeking work and provide little integration support in the form of psychological aid, education, and legal support.
With many asylum seekers now spending lengthy periods of time living under these circumstances, critics have focused primarily on the systems impact on the mental and physical well being of both applicants and their families, most especially with respect to children. Growing up in this institutionalized setting, children are provided little space to play, minimal stimulation, deprived of family meal times, and given little opportunity to integrate into a community or educational setting with children their age. The mental health of adults is of similar concern, as they are essentially forced to remain idle throughout their time in direct provision and given little opportunity or means to integrate into society.
In responding to these issues, the Irish Refugee Council has called for a series of reforms to the direct provision system including:
- Creation of a non-profit centre providing essential psychological and legal services for this vulnerable population
- Appropriate accommodations with respect to family life
- A system that embodies the best interest of the child
- A system that identifies and properly supports individuals with special needs and vulnerabilities
- Availability of legal advise
- Independent companies and inspection mechanisms
- Transfer to independent living within a maximum of 6 months
- Right to work
Many of these reforms are required by the EU Reception Conditions Directive (2003) which ensured access to housing, food, healthcare, employment, medical and psychological care for asylum seekers. While Ireland chose not to sign up to this Directive, the Irish Refugee Council argues that Ireland is held accountable to many of these standards by various EU provisions and emphasizes Ireland’s international obligations most specifically with respect to human rights.
While the Irish Refugee Council acknowledges that these changes cannot occur over night and encourages steps to be taken over time, it aims to have these reforms addressed and implemented in the promised 2014 Immigration, Residence, and Protection Act.