Posted on June 02, 2015
The treatment of asylum seekers in Ireland has been the subject of considerable critique and controversy for over a decade. For asylum seekers in Ireland, the rights afforded under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, could rightly appear as utopian constructs. Rights such as the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living are of particular concern when analysed through the lens of protection law and policy in Ireland. Delays in the protection system have resulted in asylum seekers residing in institutionalised facilities within the direct provision system which is administered by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), for an average of four years, some for considerably longer, surviving on a weekly allowance of €19.10. Despite vigorous campaigning by asylum seekers, NGOs and civil society organisations that have repeatedly highlighted the systemic failures within the protection system in Ireland, the State has yet to respond with meaningful reforms that show respect for the economic, social and cultural rights of asylum seekers.
The recent publication of the General Scheme of the International Protection Bill 2015 is silent on the right to work for asylum seekers nor does it make any reference to direct provision. Ireland is completely out of step with the majority of EU countries when it comes to having a single procedure for protection applications, harmonised reception conditions and the right to work for asylum seekers. Nasc has taken the view that one of primary and principle reasons for the systemic failure of our system is that we have not fully opted in to the Common European Asylum System. Opting into the Reception Conditions Directive, in particular, would go some way to ensuring that our reception system is fair, humane and transparent whilst also affording protection applicants the right to work and minimal degrees of respect for economic, social and cultural rights.
Six months on from the High Court Judgement in C.A. and T.A. v the Minister for Justice and Equality (Record No. 2013/751/JR), RIA has yet to publish a revised set of 'House Rules'in response to the Courts finding that current 'House Rules' were a disproportionate interference with the right to a private and family life. RIA has also yet to implement a new complaints mechanism in response to the Courts finding that the lack of an independent complaints mechanism was unlawful. The inertia on the part of the State in its response to the findings of the Court in the C.A. and T.A. is worrying and it is hoped that this inertia will not be replicated in this governments stated commitment to reform direct provision. From our experience of working with asylum seekers, we understand that there is a deeply held reluctance to make official complaints about living conditions for fear of retaliation, transfer or that it may impact upon their protection application.
Nasc has long campaigned for the introduction of an independent complains mechanism for residents of direct provision and we have continually called for the remit of the Offices of the Ombudsman and the Children's Ombudsman to be extended to cover direct provision. To date and despite the findings of the High Court, there appears to be a complete absence of political will to address this issue and allow asylum seekers to present their cases relating to complaints arising from RIA accommodation to the Ombudsman. Whilst the Offices of the Ombudsman and the Children's Ombudsman currently hold the view that their remit does extend to all administrative issues relating to asylum including accommodation and internal compliant handling, the Department of Justice does not appear to share this view. It is disappointing that the General Scheme of the International Protection Bill 2015 makes no reference to an independent complaints mechanism as this legislation presents an opportunity for clarification or necessary amendments required for Ombudsman oversight. This could be viewed as symptomatic of the disregard with which successive governments have viewed the rights and living conditions of our asylum seekers.
The establishment of the Working Group on direct provision and the protection process is a very welcome first step towards reforming the current system. Nasc as a member of the Working Group is confident that this process will bring about much needed improvements. However the change that needs to happen to ensure respect for the economic, social and cultural rights of asylum seekers goes well beyond the remit of the Working Group and will ultimately lie in the abolition of the direct provision system and comprehensive legislative reform.
- Claire Cumiskey is Senior Legal Officer with Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre.