Scott Millar says asylum seekers are waiting too long for claims to be processed.
LIVING in cramped conditions, not allowed to work, your family forced to exist on handouts, and faced with the prospect of being moved to another part of the country, or much further afield, at a couple of days' notice.
Most of us would find it hard to bear such conditions for a week, but over 6,000 asylum seekers are existing in such a position, some for up to eight years.
Up until earlier this year most had endured the conditions in silent dismay.
However, asylum seekers are by their nature a resourceful group of people. While NGOs such as the Irish Refugee Council and Residents Against Racism attempted to give a voice to their needs, in recent months asylum seekers have begun to organise themselves into camp committees, holding protests, notably at the Mosney Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) centre to highlight their demands for reform of the ‘direct provision system’ and the speeding up of the asylum process. However, if they are to be successful in forcing change it will mean overcoming major obstacles.
Among them is the apathy of a public focused on the worsening economy, a legal profession for which costly time delays are not an issue, businesspeople reliant on the profitable provision of accommodation and a minister for justice attempting to cultivate a tough guy profile.
It was a similarly ‘get tough’ approach which saw the ‘temporary’ introduction of the direct provision and dispersal system by the then Minister for Justice John O’Donoghue 10 years ago. Mr O’Donoghue was clear about the new system’s aim, to discourage the growing influx of asylum seekers into Ireland, stating that: “The welfare scheme must not act as a pull factor for non-genuine asylum-seekers.”
The system was only meant to last for six months while a speedup of the asylum process was implemented. The latter never happened, leaving thousands to endure years of legal limbo.
Under the direct provision system asylum seekers are provided with accommodation, meals and laundry facilities, along with cash payments of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child a week. The asylum seekers are maintained in converted hostels and hotels, which RIA contracts from private companies.
A 2008 report by the Cork-based Irish Immigrant Support Centre (NASC) described several of the centres as little more than “open prisons”.
In other EU states, there is a time limit of one year before asylum seekers can take up employment and move out of the direct provision system. Only Ireland and Denmark have availed of the Reception Directive opt out clause to avoid bestowing this right.
In his new immigration bill, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has ruled out giving the right to work to asylum seekers who have been here over a year.
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