A new report on ending Direct Provision has recommended moving asylum seekers into "own door" accommodation and granting eligibility for driving licenses and social welfare.
The expert report by Dr Catherine Day recommends ending Direct Provision "no later" than 2023.
The report in noted that in 2019, the current system cost the State in the region of €178.5 million, the system recommended for the future offers a "more efficient, more humane and cost-effective way" of providing an international protection system that would have costs in the region of €142.6 million, a difference of €35.9 million.
Direct Provision, currently run by private contractors for profit, has been mired in controversy since its inception, with complaints from residents over lack of privacy, hygiene, poor treatment from centre managers, and adverse psychological effects of extended periods of stay, some as long as seven years.
The new report recommends that after three months in the reception centre, applicants should move to own-door accommodation under the responsibility of the local authorities.
To enable applicants to live in the community, and weekly allowances currently paid should be replaced by a housing allowance modelled on the Homeless Housing Assistance Payment (HHAP) and access to social assistance payments equivalent to the range of income supports (e.g. Supplementary Welfare Allowance, Child Benefit) available to Irish citizens.
The advisory group concluded that the right to work should be extended to anyone in the international protection process who has not yet received a final decision on their application, within 3 months of lodging an application for protection, as well as other rights including access to education, driving licenses and bank accounts.
Asylum seekers will also be allowed to work for public health employers, providing they have the relevant qualifications.
The government said all the recommendations will be analysed and help craft a white paper that will be completed by the end of 2020, with a view of ending Direct Provision in the lifetime of this government.
A new, time-limited system to ensure faster decision-making and a permanent system that accepts Ireland will need to process around 3,500 new applications for international protection every year.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) be given the responsibility to inspect the existing accommodation centres and enforce the standards from January 2021.
First instance decisions should be taken within 6 months of the date of application and recommend a 6-month deadline for the appeals stage of the process Ending the congregated and segregated accommodation of applicants for international protection and providing own-door accommodation sourced through the local authorities within three months of an application for protection.
The allowances currently paid to people in direct provision should be increased from January 2021 and regularly reviewed in line with the cost of living Minister for Children, Roderic O'Gorman, whose department has taken over responsibility for ending the system said the government are not shying away from how difficult it will be, including moving to "own door" accommodation in the midst of a housing crisis.
"To address the homelessness crisis, we have a very ambitious target of 30,000 social houses to be provided across the lifetime of the government and we saw the first steps towards that taking the budget, to deliver 9000 of social houses from next year," he said.
"We will be setting out, how we achieve the various steps within the sphere of direct provision, within the white paper and the timelines we'll need to add to deliver that, we don't minimise the scale of the challenge here but, we have set it as an objective within the programme for government and the government is fully committed to delivering on that objective."
Mr O'Gorman said that direct provision had failed in terms of integration and steps will be taken in order to counteract the rise of the far-right, who have stirred up anti-immigrant sentiment in rural communities which led to a number of arson attacks in towns which direct provision centres had been planned to move.
"When an area has been identified for having some accommodation for people in the international protection process, we have to reach out to communities," he said.
"We have to reach out to community leaders, we have to be very clear about telling them what's happening and seeking their support.
"We will be implementing a set way of engaging with local authorities, with TDs in the area with community leaders and letting people know what is being proposed and countering myths and I think that's really important as a way of getting buy-in from the local community.
"If you get that local community buy-in, we can move away from giving a space to kind of far-right keyboard warriors many who might not actually be from that area but who move in an attempt to take advantage of a situation."
MASI, a group who advocate for the rights of asylum seekers said of the report: "The process of ending Direct Provision needs a commitment from each cabinet minister who will provide a service to asylum seekers. Without that commitment, we’ll be back to another expert group in 5 to 10 years time producing yet another report on Direct Provision.
"We need to see an immediate change in attitude from the government because we have heard and had enough."
- The ban on asylum seekers accessing driving licences to be addressed immediately.
- Making labour market access permission available to everyone who has been in the system for three months.
- The establishment of a one-off, simplified, case-processing approach to clear the current backlog in cases by 2022. This would apply to all applicants who have been in the system for two years or more by the end of 2020. They would be given leave to remain in Ireland for five years, and be given the option to continue with their application or withdraw it.
- The introduction of binding targets for all new applicants from 2023 onwards. These include a six-month deadline for the International Protection Office to make a first instance decision, and a six-month deadline for the International Protection Appeals Tribunal to make a decision on an appeal.
- Stage one would be the initial reception stage and accommodation would be provided by state-owned centres for up to three months. Onsite services would be available so people can access their entitlements and receive more support.
- Stage two would see applicants moving into their own door accommodation. The report calls for asylum seekers to receive HAP equivalent payment as well as a weekly allowance equivalent to income supports for Irish citizens.
- Stage three is for people who receive international protection or a permission to remain in Ireland. Under the new system, they would continue to benefit from these supports for up to 18 months after their permission is granted.
- A cabinet committee to meet regularly and report to government every six months.
- An independent body to monitor and evaluate progress.
- An extension of the Ombudsman's powers to include investigating complaints about the processes leading up to decisions on cases.
A refugee who was living in direct provision for four years has said she is hopeful the new government report calling for the abolition of the direct provision system will be implemented but feels it is already too late for those who've gone through the system.
The report of the Advisory Group on the Provision of Support, including Accommodation, to Persons in the International Protection Process, was published at 3pm today.
The report recommends the complete abolition of the current direct provision system and a new permanent system with a three-stage process to replace it.
Lindita Jaupaj is originally from Albania and moved out of direct provision two weeks ago after being granted refugee status. She welcomes the report but says it needs to be realised fully.
Lindita was living in Ashbourne House in Glounthane but has now moved to Dublin with her husband and daughter.
She says the government must listen to the views of those in the system, and that many people felt ignored and abandoned while living in direct provision.
"The government has to take [this report] seriously. They have to find any possible way to make change, but I think they're [too] late."
She says in her four years there, she heard a lot of talk from the government about change, but nothing substantial was done.
"I really hope change happens, but I don't know whether it will.
Lindita adds that politicians and government officials need to learn what it's like living in a hostel, trying to raise a family, and having to sleep, eat and do homework in the same area.
She adds that many centres don't have internet, and more needs to be done to examine the privately-run centres, to find out exactly how the state's money is being spent.
"We have to be heard, people need to have a voice. I never saw anyone come to us to do a survey, asking for feedback about how they can change."
Lindita also points out that the media have a vital role to play in bringing about change, and they can highlight the conditions in some of the centres.
She adds that there are many barriers facing people living in direct provision, transport being one of them. She had to pay €6 every day to get the train to Cork city to take English classes, which came out of her weekly allowance.
"Why don't they cover the cost of the transport? Or have the English classes in the centre?"
Despite the fact she has left the centre, Lindita worries about the friends she's left behind. "We are people in the same boat."
She says there is almost a segregation between the general population and those living in direct provision. "I have met people from Cork who didn't even know there was a direct provision centre in the area.
"There has never been a way to make a connection between the community and the people in the centre. To mix together, to do workshops, to learn about each other's cultures, to share our stories about why we are here. We need to create a relationship with the community."