Ombudsman Calls for Urgent Reform of the Asylum Seeking Process
Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly today described as a scandal, the fact that the lives of children of asylum seekers here are put on hold as their parents wait to have their cases processed. (Listen here to podcast)
“My overall thesis reflects my concern that in terms of our treatment of families and children we may well be breaching not just our own constitution but international human rights convention as well.
The newly appointed and first woman European Ombudsman was speaking at the launch of the latest edition of Jesuit quarterly Studies, which contains her key-note article, ‘Asylum Seekers in Our Republic: Why Have We Gone Wrong?’ (Readfull article here: – photos attached).
Her article focussed on a case her office investigated concerning a woman asylum seeker and her two children. And according to Emily O’Reilly the failure of our state agencies to uphold the rights of the mother almost sundered the family apart.
“I would submit that had the same thing happened to an Irish citizen family the scandal would have been of immense proportions; as it was, the publication of my report raised barely a ripple.”
She criticised what she said was at best the ‘casual indifference and ingnorance’ of Irish society that has let us ignore the unacceptable length of time that asylum seekers here spend in direct provision. She said there was urgent need to speed up and streamline the asylum seeking process.
Michael Farrell, member of the European Commission on Racism and Intolerance, was solicitor for the woman in question whose social welfare payments were refused by the HSE even though she was entitled to them. One of her children had attempted suicide whilst in direct provision. He advocated two small changes that could be made immediately: Firstly increase the weekly payment to asylum seekers which he says at €19.10 cent per week per adult and €9 per child, is pitifully low; secondly give child benefit to the children of asylum seekers.
In the question and answer session Galway Senator Trevor O’Clochartaigh asked Ms O’Reilly could she, in her new role, put pressure on Europe to pressurize the Government here to speed up the process. Ms O’Reilly replied that there was no excuse for parliament here not to fulfil its moral obligation to asylum seekers and their children and we should not be depending on outside pressure to make us do what is right.
She also quoted Justice Catherine McGuinness who referring to the detrimental effect of drawn out direct provision on children, wondered would a Taoiseach in the future be issuing a public apology to such people.
Eugene Quinn, Jesuit Refugee Centre in Ireland’s National Director also spoke at the launch.
He called on the Irish Government to urgently reform the current asylum system, which is leaving thousands of asylum seekers living in limbo for prolonged periods in direct provision accommodation.
“One in three asylum seekers have been waiting at least five years and one in ten more than seven years for a final decision on their application for protection from the Irish State. Their lives have been put on hold; they have not committed a crime, but many endure what they feel is an indefinite sentence in direct provision.”
Mr Quinn drew attention to the fact that when direct provision was introduced in 2000, it was envisaged that people would remain within the system on a short-term basis – no longer than six months. At present, however, asylum seekers spend on average four years in direct provision accommodation centres.
He pointed out that asylum seekers themselves and those working with them report that residing for prolonged periods in direct provision involves significant human costs, with negative impacts on physical and mental health, family relationships and the ability to participate in society. Almost one third of asylum seekers are children. The immediate as well as the long-term impact on children of growing up in the institutionalised environment of direct provision must be an issue of grave concern.
“Clearly, it was not the original intention of the authorities that people would remain in direct provision for such lengthy periods of time. However, justice delayed is justice denied. It is now imperative that the Government responds to the harsh realities for thousands of living long-term in direct provision and puts in place the durable solutions that are needed.”
One of the most severe restrictions imposed on asylum seekers is the prohibition on their taking up any form of employment while their application is being considered. When the process drags on for months and then years, the absence of the right to work denies asylum seekers the opportunity to support themselves and their families. This restriction, combined with limited access to education, ensures that people living long-term in direct provision have to endure extreme boredom and the lack of opportunity to use their skills and qualifications.
In conclusion, Mr Quinn stated:
“States do, of course, have a right to control their borders. However, natural justice demands that asylum applications be processed and concluded within a reasonable period of time. If direct provision has to be endured on a long-term basis – stretching over several years – it can become a cruel and inhumane system.”