Call to deal with asylum system ‘big ticket items’

The “big-ticket items” that could have substantially improved life for asylum seekers in Ireland have still not been addressed, three years after a seminal report recommended numerous changes to direct provision and the level of support available.

Dr Bryan McMahon giving the keynote address at the conference 'Beyond McMahon - the future of asylum reception in Ireland ' at UCC.

Bryan McMahon, who chaired the working group that compiled the report, said it remained the case that asylum seekers had to wait an inordinate length of time for their applications for refugee status to be processed.

Moreover, a recommendation that asylum seekers be allowed access to the labour market after nine months had not been followed through by Government.

Instead, it had taken the Supreme Court to force the Government’s hand when it ruled last year that the asylum seekers’ work ban was unconstitutional, a ban that it formally struck down this year.

Dr McMahon, a retired High Court judge, said it was “somewhat regrettable that the Supreme Court had to tell the Government what their legal obligations are on the right to work”.

As it stands, the conditions under which asylum seekers can access the labour market are extremely restrictive, including that they can only apply for jobs with a starting salary of €30,000 and cannot apply for jobs across 60 different sectors, including hospitality, childcare, construction, and administration.

Dr McMahon said he hopes, when the Government signs up later this year to the EU’s recast Reception Conditions Directive, which obliges member states to grant asylumseekers access to the labour market no later than nine months after lodging a claim, that they “don’t try to carve out exceptions”.

“I hope that they are generous in the right to work for asylum seekers who haven’t got their papers. It’s very restrictive at the moment and that’s wrong. In my view, a more generous response is required.”

Dr McMahon said his working group had also tried to address “as an urgent issue” the “longstayers” — the up to 2,000 people stuck in the asylum-seeking process for up tonine years.

He said they had wanted them fast-tracked and given their papers, but it was done “on an ad hoc basis” over a three-year period “and they never really got rid of that group of people as a backlog”.

As a result, when a new streamlined process was introduced in late 2016, it “did not get a clear start, so there is a delay built in from a legacy issue”. Currently, asylumseekers are waiting up to 20 months for their first interview, and the entire process is taking about four years.

Dr McMahon said while Government could claim to have addressed many of the 173 recommendations in the Report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, “that disguises the fact that the major ones, the big-ticket items such as length of processing and the right to work, are still problematic”.



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