Lecturer in law at University College Dublin, Liam Thornton, believes the direct provision system, which was envisaged would only last six months, is taking far too long to deal with the numbers of refugee applications it processes.
“There’s no clear reason, as far as I can see, why it takes such a long period, especially as we’ve had so few applications in the last six or seven years,” said Dr Thornton.
“Yet there’s still people who applied for asylum in 2002 or 2003 who may have a decision on refugee status but who have not had a decision on subsidiary protection and I’m not quite clear what the reason for that is.”
More than 400 asylum seekers are waiting more than 84 months — or seven years — in direct provision according to figures from the Reception and Integration Agency.
It costs the State more than €10,500 a year to accommodate each individual. A total of €63.3m was spent on the scheme in 2012.
For an asylum seeker to qualify for refugee status, they must show that they have fled their country of origin for fear of persecution on the basis of political opinion or religious beliefs, for example.
If an applicant does not qualify for this status they may, under EU law, apply for subsidiary protection to remain in the country.
This split-protection system, whereby a refugee status application must be refused before subsidiary protection can be sought, is an excuse successive ministers have used to explain the long waiting times, according to Irish Refugee Council spokes- woman Sharon Waters.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said legislation Justice Minister Alan Shatter intends to publish should substantially simplify and streamline the existing application process.
“It will do this by making provision for the establishment of a single application procedure so that applicants can be provided with a final decision on all aspects of their protection application in a more straightforward and timely fashion,” said the spokesperson.
Ms Waters said this legislation has been long promised but has yet to materialise. She said believes the real reason for the long waiting times is the State’s low acceptance rate of about 10%, approximately 15% lower than the EU average.
Under direct provision, asylum seekers are also denied the right to work — Ireland being the only EU member state to deny this right.
Direct provision, which Ms Waters said has no legislative basis, is currently being challenged in the High Court by a family of asylum seekers.
The African family argue that it violates their right to personal, family, and equality rights as set out under the Constitution.
They are also arguing that Ireland is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights by denying the right to private and family life and the right to enjoyment of that life, as they are denied social assistance payments and are placed in accommodation where they are not entitled to prepare their own meals.