A new coalition of leading not-for-profit organizations in Ireland is calling for an end to Ireland's controversial Direct Provision asylum reception system. Some years ago the government had committed to ending the system by 2024, yet it still has a long way to go to ensure it delivers on these promises, according to the coalition.
The coalition, named STAD (Standing Against Direct Provision), will work together to ensure that the government fulfils its commitment to ending Direct Provision by 2024, and replacing it with alternative systems of accommodation that are "compliant with human rights standards" by 2024. STAD* is the Gaelic word for ‘stop’.
The coalition, launched on January 26, demands a closure of all emergency centers and a reduction in processing times for international protection applications and appeals.
It is also seeking to ensure that Ireland's Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) is given a mandate for independent inspections of the current Direct Provision centers, until the new permanent system comes into force.
Moreover STAD’s demands include an increase in the daily expenses allowance for asylum seekers, making the right to work available after three months and making a comprehensive vulnerability assessment available to everyone.
What is Direct Provision?
Direct Provision was set up in Ireland in 1999 in response to a sharp increase in the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland.
This system of accommodation means that recipients get a place to live, daily set meals in a canteen at fixed times, a weekly payment of €38.80 per adult and €29.80 per child and a medical card. The Irish State is legally obliged to give migrants somewhere to live while the International Protection Office (IPO) is processing their asylum application.
Many of the accommodation centers are located in remote rural areas, with limited transport options and support services. Residents live in shared accommodation, with single adults sharing rooms with up to eight people of different backgrounds and nationalities.
There are currently more than 7,000 people living in Direct Provision centers across Ireland. While the system was established as a short-term solution, many people have ended up living in these centers with no autonomy for years.
Up to 12 years in Direct Provision
Direct Provision has been repeatedly criticized by migrant rights groups due to the length of time people remain in these centers while their asylum applications or appeals are processed as well as due to the conditions of centers. Rights groups believe that the current institutional system creates barriers to integration, contributes to poor mental and physical health and leads to social exclusion.
The average length of stay in Direct Provision is 24 months, with some residents having spent up to 10 or even 12 years living in these conditions. Until February 2018, asylum seekers had no right to work in Ireland – unlike most EU member states. Restrictions still apply and the majority of people who live in Direct Provision centers have no right to access employment.
The majority of Direct Provision centers are managed by private contractors on a for-profit basis, on behalf of the State. Private providers have earned over €1.6 billion in accommodation contracts since 1999, according to figures furnished by the Irish Department of Children on the overall cost of accommodation for asylum seekers between 1999 and 2020.
Read more: 'Direct Provision' in Ireland explained
Coalition urges for closure of centers by 2024
"Direct Provision has been widely criticized ... due to its unsuitable living conditions, institutionalized regime and lack of the right supports, and because long delays in the determination process mean people are often left in limbo for years. The impact of this on people’s rights, their physical and mental health, privacy and dignity, is entirely unacceptable,” said Tim Hanley, Campaigns Officer at Amnesty International Ireland, speaking with InfoMigrants.
Explaining that STAD is working directly with people living in Direct Provision, the Irish Refugee Council CEO Nick Henderson said it is "well established" that the system has failed.
"As a coalition, we will be stringently holding the Irish government to account on their promise to close the centers by 2024. Our collaboration can ensure an end to this system in the next two years," said Henderson.
STAD also wants urgent measures identified in the 'Catherine Day' Report to be implemented immediately. After the publication of this landmark report in October 2020, the Irish government said Direct Provision is not fit for purpose and must be replaced.
MASI spokesperson Bulelani Mfaco said the new coalition would be an important platform for civil society to publicly condemn Direct Provision.
"The Irish State has defended the abhorrent system of Direct Provision for two decades, ignoring criticism from asylum seekers, and domestic and international human rights organizations," said Mfaco.
Since STAD launched, many independent aid organizations have already added their support to this mission to abolish Direct Provision.
"From listening to the experiences of people living in Direct Provision, there seems to be a very strong feeling that not enough has changed in the past year," said Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc, speaking with RTE Radio on January 26. "We appreciate the ambition to end this system by 2024, but we haven’t seen any real tangible changes put in place to start moving towards dismantling the current system and creating a new reception system for asylum seekers."
Few real changes
People living in Direct Provision now have better access to education, they can get a driving license, they can set up a bank account in their own name. These last two changes came about directly as a result of the actions of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. “And now we have the regularization scheme as well," said Finn. "All of this is hugely welcome. But asylum seekers living in the system are telling us that nothing really has changed for them on the ground.”
“If we look back to what the government said their priorities were, one of these was an immediate end to emergency accommodation. That has not happened. At the moment, there are at least 1,646 people who are living in emergency accommodation throughout Ireland."
"The government also said that they were going to bring in a proper vulnerability assessment but this has not happened throughout Ireland. Currently unaccompanied minors who have come to Ireland to seek asylum are initially placed with foster families. But when they turn 18, they are automatically put into direct provision. A lot of what we are all asking for are things that we have been asking for the last decade.”
Irish Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman tweeted in response to the launch of STAD, saying “NGOs and the Government share the same goal: ending Direct Provision by 2024. We’ll be meeting NGOs to update them on progress made in ending Direct Provision, and we’ll be bringing an update to Cabinet next month.”
Some 1,566 applications for international protection were made in Ireland in 2020, along with another 1,808 applications up to the end of October 2021, according to IPO figures.
The average processing time for international protection applications processed to completion at first instance in 2020 was 17.6 months, and 23 months for cases processed to completion in the third quarter of 2021.
“For more than 21 years, Ireland’s Direct Provision system has been a human rights scandal. Direct Provision has failed utterly to fulfil Ireland’s human rights obligations to people seeking protection here. Instead, it has been 21 years of people being hurt and marginalized, and 21 years of lives put on hold,” said Amnesty International Ireland in a statement.
Although they welcome the government’s stated commitment to end Direct Provision, STAD believes the Irish state still has a long way to go to ensure it delivers on these commitments and the proposed alternative must protect people’s human rights.
Finn confirms that STAD will keep pressure on politicians and public officials to ensure they are taking all the necessary steps. "We hope that together we will finally be able to put an end to this degrading and inhumane system in Ireland."
*STAD is a coaltion of eight organizations: Nasc, Amnesty International Ireland, Crosscare Refugee Project, Cultúr, Doras, Immigrant Council of Ireland, Irish Refugee Council and MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland).