There is an urgent need for change in Ireland’s asylum system. As it currently stands, asylum seekers must wait in direct provision centres while their application for refugee status or subsidiary protection status is pending. Direct Provision was originally introduced as an emergency measure in 1999 and was only supposed to last for 6 months. Indeed, the reaction to this change from asylum seekers is observable - in 2000, there were 10,938 new applications, while in 2013, there were 946.
Currently, there are around 6,000 people living in Direct Provision accommodation centres. Because of the poorly structured application procedures, 59% of current applicants have been in this system for over three years and some have been there for over 6 years. The hardship of long periods of time living in Direct Provision is aggravated by the general poor standards of accommodation and lifestyle associated with these centres. The recent Economic and Social Research Institute report on Direct Provision notes a lack of privacy, overcrowding, a lack of facilities for children, and a lack of autonomy. The lack of autonomy with specific regard to food and the lack of exercise facilities mean that physical health problems are widespread. Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are also common.
In fact, the Direct Provision procedure has received international condemnation. The Balseskin Reception Centre in Dublin has been condemned as inadequate for its conditions by the Council of Europe in a report on trafficking. Women and children who have been sexually exploited and abused are held in mixed gender centre, which may aggravate their trauma.
The matter was raised in the High Court of Northern Ireland in Belfast, where the concern applicants were asylum seekers who applied for asylum in the Republic of Ireland but subsequently travelled to Northern Ireland. Mr Justice Stephens noted the poor treatment asylum seekers in Ireland experience, in particular, the absence of permission to work, the low allowance and widespread health problems. He found that the conditions of the centres were contrary to the best interest of the child [In the Matter of an Application for Judicial Review by ALJ and A, B and C  NIQB 88(14 August 2013)].
Can change happen?
It seems as the government are satisfied with the poor standards associated with Direct Provision centres, as it operates as a deterrent to asylum seekers who may wish to claim refuge in Ireland. Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan said during Prime Time in January that it should be ensured “that Ireland is not an attractive place for applicants”, so the State would not become overburdened. Elsewhere, the Former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has also defended direct provision on cost grounds.
Thus, it is clear that if an alternative system were going to be considered by the government, it would have to be equally economical or even cheaper. While the €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child is easy to calculate, it is harder to put a monetary value on the mental health issues that asylum seekers experience resulting from the lack of autonomy in the centres, or perhaps the insensitivity to victims of gendered crimes. This sanctioned ill-treatment of those who have not committed any crimes and who have already suffered enormously can no longer continue and be justified on cost effectiveness grounds. The government needs to be conscious of what legacy it wishes to leave behind on its treatment of asylum seekers.