'I was not listened to' - Nasc criticises system which delays refugees having bank accounts

'I was not listened to' - Nasc criticises system which delays refugees having bank accounts

Refugees and asylum seekers are strugging to open up bank accounts, according to Nasc. Picture: Press Association

Refugees and asylum seekers are struggling to access bank accounts and other financial services, according to Nasc, the migrant and refugee rights centre.

People must surrender their passports when applying for asylum, meaning they don't have a valid proof of ID. 

"While they are given a temporary residence card or an Irish Residency Permit, it is specifically written on these cards 'this is not an identity document'," says Fiona Hurley, Nasc's head of communications.

Those seeking asylum also can't apply for a driver's license, another common form of ID.

The labour market access permit, along with a residency card and a passport photocopy has been accepted by some banks as proof of ID. 

"The labour market access permit is only given after nine months, when the person seeking asylum has the right to work, but not everyone can access this type of permit," says Ms Hurley.

"Proof of address can also be difficult to obtain."

Holman Sulumba, who was granted refugee status after being in Ireland for four years, tried to set up a bank account last year while he was living in direct provision.

He gave his passport to the Department of Justice when he applied for asylum.

"The process was very hard for me. I just had a passport [photo] copy, and when I presented that and proof of my address, the bank wouldn't accept them."

Mr Sulumba enrolled for a course, and as part of this he was due to receive an allowance. The college told him they were supposed to pay this directly to his account, and gave him a letter to take to the bank.

"The bank still insisted that I didn't have proof of ID, so I had to get my social worker from Nasc, to help me."

Mr Sulumba got passport photos and then went to the Garda station to get an ML10 form, a certification of identity, which the gardaí signed. 

"The banks still insisted I had no ID. After two more days, I had to go with Susan, and she had to explain and convince them to allow me to open an account.

"When I went by myself I was not listened to, I felt out of place."

Mr Sulumba said not having a bank account made it hard for him to apply for other things, such as an age card. This meant when he went out with friends, he struggled to get into pubs or nightclubs because he had no form of ID.

Susan Mackey, Mr Sulumba's Connect Social Worker, said the Connect project has worked with many young people in direct provision who have found it "almost impossible" to set up bank accounts.

"This is despite the fact that EU law requires member states to ensure that asylum seekers have the right to open basic bank accounts.

"Part of the issue seems to be a lack of training for frontline staff. We've encountered situations where counter staff have not recognised or understood basic documents issued by the Department of Justice."

Ms Mackey added that young people said they were treated differently when they attended a bank alone versus when a Nasc staff member accompanied them.

"It's very hurtful and frustrating for young people to feel that they are not listened to, or that they are under suspicion when they simply want to set up a deposit bank account.

"Over the last decade, we’ve increasingly become a cashless society so trying to function without a basic debit card makes life so much more complicated."

"Little things that we take for granted like being able to top up a Leap Card or buy an advance train ticket, to avail of cheaper travel rates, aren't possible. When you only receive an allowance of €38.80 per week, literally every cent matters."

Olivia Buckley, Public Affairs Director BPFI, said that the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland and its member banks are working with a range of interested stakeholders on the issue, including the Department of Justice, advocacy groups and NGOs.

"One of the key issues involved is the very specific documentation that is required by all individuals when opening an bank account, under Anti-Money Laundering legislation.

"Under that legislation banks must verify the person’s identification and address, and this applies to every single individual seeking to open an account.

"We very much appreciate that there are some complexities for eligible protection applicants when it comes to such documentation and we are actively engaging with all relevant stakeholders."

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