Reform of the Asylum System: Progress 10 months on

On the 30th June 2015 the Working Group on Direct Provision, published its report detailing 173 recommended improvements and required changes to the asylum system in Ireland. This was the first fundamental review of the asylum process and Direct Provision in Ireland since their inception. The Government committed to prioritising this much needed reform between 2014 and 2016. Although many improvements have been made to the asylum process in response to this report, many of the recommendations have since been left unheeded. Eugene Quinn of The Irish Times recently published an article slamming the Government for this failure to improve the asylum system to a satisfactory degree. Mr Quinn’s article can be found at: http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/asylum-system-government-fails-to-deliver-on-promised-reform-1.2632475

This blog will address Mr Quinn’s article alongside the relative aspects of the 2015 INIS Annual Report.

The International Protection Act was signed into law on the 30th December 2015 and addresses 26 of the recommendations from the Working Group, including a fundamental recommendation to reduce delay and increase the efficiency of the procedure. Significant improvements introduced by the Act include the implementation of a Single Application Procedure for asylum applications together with the entrenchment of the ‘Best Interests of the Child’ principle in the application procedure.

The Single Application Procedure was established with a view to streamline the application procedure thus reducing waiting times. However Mr Quinn states that due to the lack of adequate resources to eradicate the backlog of asylum applications the efficiency of this new procedure will be undermined. This is a considerable concern as delays continued to increase in the application procedure into 2015. However, this new procedure is still in its early stages. Its development will have to be closely monitored to ensure its objectives are realised.

Another recommendation by the Working Group was to ensure that no person remains in the application procedure for longer than five years. The Working Group suggested that the immigration status of these applicants should be resolved or the applicants should be granted leave to remain within six weeks. Mr Quinn states;

“The biggest single issue voiced by asylum seekers in the consultation process was the length of time in the process. Then, more than 40 per cent of Direct Provision residents had been waiting at least five years since they first applied for asylum in Ireland”.

Mr Quinn goes on to state that while an official announcement was not made accepting and implementing this recommendation, it seems to have been implemented nonetheless. The 2015 INIS Annual Report states that 1,384 applicants whom had been in the asylum procedure for more than five years were granted permission to remain. While the implementation of this recommendation is to be commended, it is concerning if this was not done in an official manner. This may lead to an inconsistent application of the recommendation leading then to inequality.

In January 2016, the Direct Provision Allowance for children was increased by €6. Again, this was an essential improvement and is to be commended. Nevertheless, Mr Quinn argues that this increase was not sufficient and falls far short of the actual recommendation. Furthermore, the proposal to increase the adult allowance has been disregarded. The adult allowance remains at €19.10 weekly as it has been for the past 15 years.

Furthermore, Mr Quinn highlights that Ireland and Lithuania are the only EU countries that do not allow asylum seekers to access employment at any stage throughout their application. It was recommended by the Working Group that access to the labour market be granted after nine months in the asylum process. Unfortunately this was not addressed in the International Protection Act 2015. Moreover it is deeply regrettable that recommendations to improve the living conditions in Direct Provision centres, including introducing communal kitchens and larger living spaces, were also ignored by the Government. These changes would particularly improve the living conditions for families in Direct Provision.

The Working Group also conducted costing exercises to ensure that their recommendations were cost effective. It was found conclusively that if the necessary improvements were made to the decision making process, reducing the amount of people awaiting decisions in Direct Provision centres, enough savings could be made to improve the quality of the Direct Provision centres without further funding. Mr Quinn addresses this finding in his article;

“A detailed costing exercise conducted by the working group demonstrated conclusively that investing in decision-making makes financial sense, yielding significant savings by reducing time spent in the system. The accommodation costs alone are €11,000 per person for each year in direct provision. The cost of decision-making is a fraction of this cost.

Overall, it projected the savings arising from improving the protection process and resolving legacy cases would exceed the cost of implementing recommendations on improved living conditions and supports. Net saving to the State over a five-year period: €59.1 million.”

On a positive note, a Pilot Scheme has been commenced which permits secondary school graduates, who are in the asylum procedure, access to student support in line with the Student Grant Scheme. Again, this is a significant improvement to the system that has corrected a long standing injustice for young asylum seekers. One drawback however is that the scheme is only available to students who have been in the asylum process for at least five years. This has been criticised as being very restrictive and thus difficult to access in practice. This Scheme could be vastly improved by being accessible by asylum seekers whom are in the asylum process for a shorter period.

Overall, Brophy Solicitors are deeply disappointed that many of the agreed improvements to the asylum procedure have not been sufficiently implemented by the Government. We are calling on the Minister for Justice to make this a priority for the new Government.

BROPHY SOLICITORS IMMIGRATION TEAM

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