Ombudsman: ‘Two-tier’ direct provision is ‘not suitable’

Covid-19 crisis underscores ‘unsuitability’ of crowded centres
Ombudsman: ‘Two-tier’ direct provision is ‘not suitable’
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall: "Current direct provision accommodation is not appropriate for anything other than short-term stay. Emergency accommodation is even more inappropriate."

The emergence of a two-tier accommodation system for asylum seekers is “unsuitable” and “unsustainable”, the Ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, has said.

In his third annual report on dealing with complaints about the direct provision system, the Ombudsman said the Covid-19 crisis underscored the “unsuitability” of accommodation for asylum seekers.

Mr Tyndall welcomed recent efforts by government agencies to move 300 asylum seekers out of emergency accommodation to ensure their safety during the pandemic, but said the Covid-19 outbreak highlighted how “unsustainable” it is to have three or more people living in the same room.

The Ombudsman dealt with 168 complaints about direct provision last year, a 10% increase on 2018, which he attributed to the growing number of asylum seekers.

The Ombudsman’s office has not seen a surge in complaints during the Covid-19 crisis, but indicated that delays in transferring people and families between accommodation centres was emerging as an issue.

A number of Covid-19 outbreaks have been identified in direct provision centres, where asylum seekers may have to share a room with up to three other people, who are not family members.

Last year 4,782 people sought asylum in Ireland, a 30% increase on applications in 2018.

The number of people living in direct provision grew from 6,592 in January 2019 to 7,667 at the beginning of 2020. Hundreds of applicants have been placed in emergency accommodation due to capacity issues.

The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) added an extra 735 bed spaces last year, but also lost 220 spaces with the closure of Hatch Hall in Dublin.

At the beginning of this year, 1,524 people were living in emergency hotels, guesthouses, and B&Bs in 37 locations.

“Current direct provision accommodation is not appropriate for anything other than short-term stay. Emergency accommodation is even more inappropriate.

"It is unacceptable that people who have sought refuge here can find themselves in accommodation that is entirely unsuitable for a prolonged period — up to 16 months and longer in some cases,” Mr Tyndall said.

The Ombudsman also said: “With people staying in emergency accommodation for this length of time, there is a real risk of a two-tiered system becoming entrenched.

"I recognise that IPAS is working hard to reduce the number of people in the emergency sector, but the facts on the ground remain that there are 1,372 people currently in unsuitable settings.”

He welcomed a commitment from the Department of Justice to reduce the number of people sharing a room to no more than three after the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also welcomed confirmation that IPAS will examine the feasibility of building facilities, rather than the current practice of adapting existing buildings.

He estimated that if the 1,500 people in emergency accommodation at the start of this year were accommodated in State-owned centres, costs could have been reduced by over €45m per year.

As part of its remit to investigate complaints, staff from the Ombudsman’s office visited 26 direct provision centres in 2019. The highest number of complaints related to transfers and accommodation.

Issues were also raised about access to schools for children, food facilities, and access to GP services and medical cards.

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