According to UNHCR report, which consulted with 71 refugees, lack of access to work, education, and integration supports in the years awaiting recognition as a refugee can be difficult to repair and may hinder integration prospects.
More than 4,000 asylum seekers seeking refugee status are housed in the direct provision system— which is made up of a range of hotels, hostels, and other reception centres around the country. All are managed and run by private entities under contract to the State.
According to an ESRI/European Migration Network study carried out last year, almost 60% of asylum seekers in state accommodation have been there for more than three years.
The UNHCR study, Towards a New Beginning, made a number of recommendations including the need for a reduction in the length of time refugees spend awaiting final decisions in respect of their applications in order to limit the negative effects of such waiting periods on active citizenship.
It also said the length of time refugees stay in the direct provision system prior to their recognition as refugees should be reduced to lessen “the dis-empowerment and dependency the system can produce”.
Other measures recommended include recognition of qualifications; access to documentation; and access to social and educational supports upon recognition as a refugee and discriminatory attitudes.
Measures should also be taken to enhance access to sporting bodies, faith-based groups and parents’ engagement with schools.
Head of office with the UNHCR, Sophie Magennis, said it was clear the length of time refugees spend waiting for a decision on their asylum application needed to be reduced “in order to limit the negative effects of such waiting periods”.
“War, conflict and human rights abuses have forced a record number of people to flee to other countries as refugees around the world. We must ensure that when some of those people arrive in Ireland, their applications are dealt with in a reasonable timeframe,” she said.
The report comes as a working group set up by the Government last year examines the length of time to process asylum applications and matters such as applicants’ access to education and the role of communities and applicants’ rights to work.
Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has said that planned reforms to asylum-seeking legislation would do away with “intolerable” scenarios where people could end up spending years in direct provision centres.
Last September, asylum seekers at direct provision centres in Portlaoise, Athlone, Foynes and two centres in Cork mounted protests over their care and the delays in having their applications assessed.