The Ombudsman received 97 formal complaints from residents of direct provision centres last year, with some asylum seekers claiming they were reluctant to complain about issues where they lived for fear of being labelled “troublemakers”.
Of the 97 complaints lodged with the Ombudsman since last April, just 10 were upheld but assistance was given in another 28 cases.
Thirty complaints related to transfers, half of which were not upheld. According to the Ombudsman, many complaints are due to a transfer request not being facilitated, often because there is no suitable capacity at another centre.
In a commentary on his office’s role in addressing complaints in direct provision since April, Peter Tyndall said it was “reasonable” a transfer request be turned down on capacity grounds, but said applications could also be held until a suitable vacancy arose.
“I am pleased to report that RIA [Reception and Integration Agency] have started to take this approach,” he said.
Mr Tyndall said he was personally made aware of a complaint by a resident of a centre in Waterford who was the subject of a deportation order and then given a letter telling him to vacate the centre within six weeks.
On checking with the RIA, the Ombudsman found 23 such letters had been issued to residents across different centres.
RIA said while it does write to residents who have deportation orders outstanding against them, it was to encourage them to agree to voluntary deportation and it would not forcibly remove any of the 23 residents concerned.
The Ombudsman said his staff began visiting direct provision centres and Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres from last April and also engaged with the stakeholders including the RIA, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office, and NGOs.
His observations noted that as well as complaints about food provision, transfers and accommodation, complaints were also lodged regarding the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, often about a failure to sanction an exceptional needs payment, and about the HSE, mainly over medical cards.
On the department, he said there was “a small number of Designated Persons habitually refusing applications that are normally granted elsewhere”.
The Ombudsman noted how “many residents have told my staff that they were reluctant to complain about issues at their centres for fear of being singled out as troublemakers or persecuted in some other way for having complained.”
However, he also noted a lack of engagement by some asylum seekers, particularly in men-only centres.
The Ombudsman now intends to carry out follow-up visits to centres.
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