With the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) Ireland, ATD welcomes the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions which says that
“…the Direct Provision System is not fit for purpose and (they) recommend that it should be replaced with a reception system that respects the dignity of all persons in line with best international human rights practice.”
Ireland is one of the EU member states not allowing people to work while waiting for the state to decide on their asylum claims. To maintain this ban, Ireland has had to opt out of the EU Directive “laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers.”
Responding to the report, EAPN Ireland Chairperson Anne Loftus said: “In years to come, we will look back on the system of direct provision with the same shame which we now feel about institutional abuse in the past. Confining people to a life where they are not allowed to work, to study as adults or even to cook for themselves and their families and to live on €19.10 a week is inhuman. It is designed to enforce poverty, deskilling and hopelessness and prevent people making a contribution to society into the future.”
ATD calls on the Ministers responsible to move without delay to implement the specific recommendations of the report (more below) including those relating to increasing the allowance; the right to work for asylum seekers; transparency of the system to the Ombudsman for Public Service and the Ombudsman for Children and the application of the Freedom of Information Acts; and protection of health and children.
Recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee report
7. Recommendations related to the remit of the Joint Committee
7.1 The Joint Committee recommends that that RIA establish a pre-Ombudsman independent complaints system for residents and that this must remain in place as long as the Direct Provision System remains in existence.
7.2 The Joint Committee, in regard to inspections of Direct Provision Centres, agrees with, and recommends, the recommendation made by the Irish Refugee Council, SPIRASI, Doras Luimní and Cultúr Migrants Centre to the effect, as set out by the Irish Refugee Council, that “responsibility for inspections be carried out by an independent body such as HIQA”.
7.3 The Joint Committee recommends, for as long as the Direct Provision System remains in existence, that the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman for Public Service and the Ombudsman for Children be extended to include the Direct Provision System, the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) as well as the administration of the law relating to immigration and naturalisation;
7.4 The Joint Committee recommends, for as long as the Direct Provision System remains in existence, that the remit of the Freedom of Information Acts are extended to include the Direct Provision System, the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) as well as the administration of the law relating to immigration and naturalisation and that the Information Commissioner also has oversight of the system. The Joint Committee note and welcome the latest Statute Instrument (S.I. No. 148 of 2015) Freedom of Information Action 2014 (Effective Date for Certain Bodies) Order 2015 as, with effect from the 14th day of October 2014, the application of the Freedom of Information has been extended to include (a) the Refugee Application Commissioner, and (b) the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.
8. Recommendations referred to Sectoral Committees
Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
8.1 The Joint Committee consider that the Direct Provision System is not fit for purpose and recommend that it should be replaced with a reception system that respects the dignity of all persons in line with best international human rights practice.
8.2 The Joint Committee recommends that Ireland opt-in to the recast of Directive 2003/9 – Directive 2013/33.
8.3 The Joint Committee recommends in relation to signing-on requirements; that to eliminate the unintended consequence of stigmatising children, be changed so that children are only required to attend during times where schools are on holidays.
8.4 The Joint Committee consider that there may be a lacuna because the views of the Oireachtas have not been taken in regard to an opt-in to the legislative proposals laid down in Directive 2003/9 and the recast Directive 2013/33. The Joint Committee note that the ‘policy environment’ in which the decision not to opt-in to the 2003 Directive is different to the ‘policy environment’ that exists today. In effect the Oireachtas never expressed its view on Ireland not opting into Directive 2003/9 and given the change in the ‘policy environment’ since then it is a lacuna that the Oireachtas cannot express its views on Ireland opting in or out of the recast Directive 2013/33. The Joint Committee recommends that this lacuna be addressed and the views of the Oireachtas be sought on a decision, whether to opt-in or not opt-in to an EU Directive.
Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection
8.5 The Joint Committee considers that notwithstanding that there are other public policy issues to be taken account of; the right to work is central to the maintenance of skills and education which if not maintained can be lost. The Joint Committee is of the view that the right to work is a basic human right and that residents should be permitted to work to maintain their skills. It is one issue that can affect a solution to a range of other issues, such as the minimalist allowance of €19.10 per week; having funds to pay the prescription charge; buy books or course materials for children. By virtue of the ‘system’ residents may suffer State sponsored discrimination and disadvantage and this is particularly the case if they are granted residency, subsidiary protection or leave to remain as the loss of their work/professional/educational skills – due to the length they spent or spend in the system – will affect their employment prospects.
Accordingly, the Joint Committee recommends that this matter be examined with a view to having the restriction lifted as soon as possible, as set out in paragraph 1 of Article 15 of Directive 2013/33/EU – “Member States shall ensure that applicants have access to the labour market no later than 9 months from the date when the application for international protection was lodged if a first instance decision by the competent authority has not been taken and the delay cannot be attributed to the applicant.”
8.6 The rate of the allowance has remained the same for the last 15 years. The Joint Committee recommends that this matter be examined immediately and the allowance be raised significantly. The Joint Committee also recommend that the allowance be discontinued where the right to work is granted, however, this needs to take account of the nature of the work being either part or full-time and remunerated at a rate no less than the minimum wage rate.
8.7 The Joint Committee recommend that all residents of the Direct Provision System who have been given residency, subsidiary protection or leave to remain be given full credit for Social Protection contributions for the period they remained in the Direct Provision System over and above the first six months of residency.
8.8 The Joint Committee recommends that every Direct Provision Centre have a designated Department of Social Protection representative (formerly the Community Welfare Officer) assigned who attends the centre at least weekly for one half day each week.
8.9 The Joint Committee recommends that the travel provisions that have been made for residents in centres be standardised and take account of the need of children attending extra-curricular school activities.
8.10 The Joint Committee recommends that with immediate effect, where a resident has completed their education to Leaving Certificate they should be facilitated to attend 3rd level and that they receive all the relevant grants and support that the state provides to other citizens.
Joint Committee on Health and Children
8.11 The Joint Committee recommends that all female residents have access to a female GP on all occasions.
8.12 The Joint Committee recommends that monitoring be undertaken so as to mitigate the effect of the unintended consequences of actions that can result in the children of residents being labelled as different and which may expose these children to bullying and harassment
8.13 The Joint Committee found that mental health is a major issue among residents. The longest resident in the RIA system was 11 years, most of the residents that met the Joint Committee had been in the RIA system for more than 3 years and a large number had been more than 5 years. Residents with medical requirements did have difficulty in accessing services particularly mental health services.
8.14 While the family centres visited did have crèches, these were not standard or uniform. Each facility operated its own rules as to a) what age a child ages-out of the childcare provided in the centre; b) the times and duration of when childcare would be provided and for how long. The provision of Childcare must also take account of the needs of parents to attend courses. The Joint Committee recommends that this issue be addressed as it is important to provide courses that incorporate the needs, wishes and requests of residents.
8.15 The Joint Committee recommends that parents and their children are assured of their own privacy and that children get to see the normal family routine so as to learn life skills, they should see a parent cook, work and contribute in a meaningful way so as to integrate into society.
8.16 The Joint Committee recommends that families should be given self-catering accommodation.
8.17 The Joint Committee recommend that in relation to the food provided and nutrition, all adult residents should have the option of self-catering facilities in all Direct Provision Centres. Taking account of any dietary or ethnic food requirements.
8.18 The Joint Committee recommends adequate access to dental treatment.
8.19 The Joint Committee recommends that a medical assessment be undertaken of all centres to examine if there is an issue with ‘close living’ and the spread of illness.