As of April, there were 4,777 people in direct provision centres around the country, 3,544 of whom were adults.
Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, pointed out that while roughly 450 of those have been granted refugee status and can work but just have not been able to find homes outside the centres, the rest cannot, at this stage, seek employment.
On the back of the Supreme Court ruling advocates have demanded that asylum seekers be allowed to work from six months after they get here. Currently, 3,916 of the people in direct provision have been here for longer than that period.
There was unanimous agreement in the seven-judge court that the absolute ban is “in principle” unconstitutional. However, it adjourned making any formal orders for six months to allow the legislature to consider how to address the situation.
A Burmese man who spent eight years in direct provision before getting refugee status had brought the case against the Minister for Justice after he was offered work in his direct provision centre in 2013 but could not take it up due to the employment ban.
He said that, while in direct provision on a €19 weekly allowance, he suffered depression and an “almost complete loss of autonomy”, and that being allowed to work was vital to his development, personal dignity, and “sense of self-worth”.
The court found that, where there is no time limit on the asylum process, the “absolute prohibition” on seeking employment is contrary to the constitutional right to seek employment.
Emily Logan, the chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, which was an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case, said: “While it was originally envisaged that a person would remain in the Direct Provision system on a short-term basis the reality is that delays in asylum adjudication process means stays in Direct Provision centres have become considerably longer.”
Brian Killoran, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, pointed out that Ireland and Lithuania are the only two EU member states with a blanket ban on asylum seekers getting a job.
“The Immigrant Council strongly believes asylum seekers should be granted the right to work at six months — which is the time limit within which they are supposed to receive a decision on their application and therefore is fair and fitting,” said Mr Killoran.
The Department of Justice said the Supreme Court ruling may have significant implications for the asylum process. It said Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and her minister of state, David Stanton, recently asked their officials to identify the options for and barriers to asylum seekers accessing the labour market in certain circumstances.
“This judgement gives this work increased emphasis and priority,” a spokesman said.