• Sarah Hamilton

Direct Provision White Paper: The strategic elimination of Direct Provision by 2024? Our Thoughts.

The White Paper published by the Government last Friday details the strategic elimination of Direct Provision by 2024. The Irish Refugee Council, as well as other human rights organisations, seem cautiously hopeful of Roderic O’Gorman’s future improvements for asylum seekers in Ireland, which will be carried out by the Department of Children, Equality, Integration and Youth.

Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council stated that the vulnerability assessment of asylum seekers is at the forefront of the plan, which would allow people who are fleeing violence, sexual violence, who are LGBTQI, disabled, who are trafficked or who are older to be directed to appropriate services and housing arrangements. Henderson noted that the Government is required to do such assessments by law and are still two years behind in implementing this.

The Irish Refugee Council commissioned research on Implementing Alternatives to Direct Provision in January. The government also had the guidance of the Catherine Day Advisory Group report published at the same time, to draw upon for the finished White Paper report. Henderson believes the White Paper “broadly reflects” these findings, but that it is not without its weaknesses.

The full report, which can be accessed here in a number of different languages, describes a two-phased approach where asylum seekers should expect to spend no more than four months in reception and integration centres. These centres will no longer be private-owned and instead will be run by not-for-profit organisations or State-run. Henderson said that the report’s concentration on “the integration from the day a person arrives in Ireland is hugely important”. It promises to offer health, housing, education and employment support, including the option for English classes and a particular focus on children’s education.

Another element of the report that is welcomed by Henderson and other anti-DP groups is the future plans for family-suitable and single-suitable housing. The lack of appropriate housing and cooking facilities in Direct Provision centres has long been criticised by human rights groups as well as asylum seekers themselves. Covid-19 only exacerbated this problem, with many residents unable to socially distance themselves from others, or in some cases, where vulnerable persons were put into self-isolation, causing mental health decline. Asylum seekers have been forced to go on hunger strike to protest the unsuitable living conditions and lack of adequate food, cleaning supplies and family-considerate facilities.

Diana, who has lived in Direct Provision for the past six months with her four children, spoke to Ireland AM about the effect Direct Provision is having on her children. She described it as a "very suffocating" experience and said that her children have lost their self-confidence.

"It is very hard for us as parents to make sure that these kids escape from this system with their confidence intact."

According to government plans, after four months in a State-owned centre, applicants should be provided with their own housing through a mix of both urban renewal and community hosting schemes. Although most individuals will be given accommodation through Approved Housing Bodies.

Once in Phase Two of the plan, all accommodation will be own-door, self-contained houses or apartments for families. Single persons are to be housed in either own-door or own-room accommodation.

Such improvements have been requested by the Refugee Council since the first creation of Direct Provision in 1999 and these improvements serve as necessary means for improving asylum treatment in the Republic of Ireland.

A central blind spot in the plan may be the lack of clarification on how the government intends on tackling the backlog of cases in the system. Many asylum seekers have been waiting for years, some decades, for their asylum applications or appeals to be processed. This keeps asylum seekers at a total disadvantage, unable to integrate into society, such people are left in constant wait, in inappropriate housing and with next to no mental health support. Although the White Paper does mention mental health support as a planned improvement, it fails to consider the recommendation made by Catherine Day Advisory Group that people who have been in the system for more than two years would be offered permission to remain. Henderson states that the IRC “believe this is a crucial device in reducing backlogs in the asylum process.”

It is important to highlight that the very design of Direct Provision was to promote “deterrence”. At the time, The Department of Justice stated that so as to avoid “pull factors” that may attract applicants to Ireland, the accommodation system needed to be undesirable. The Irish Times mentioned this fact in their recent opinion piece, emphasising that “this was not a slur imagined by critics - this was the policy.” As Henderson recognises, the year 2024 will be long for many people struggling in this unfit system as of now. At Let’s Help, we recognise our limitations in such political and State-run decisions. We are particularly focused on answering a current need of applicants in the system. We aim to try to improve the “now” of asylum seekers, by providing necessary resources such as laptops, school uniforms, leap cards, phones, food and other necessities.

Without a doubt, it is fair to say that such a report could not exist without the rallying, researching and expertise of the Irish Refugee Council and other groups such as Masi and Abolish DP. Asylum seekers themselves have often put themselves at the forefront of the public eye in hopes that enough outreach would cause a ripple effect in change. It should not be up to asylum seekers, many of whom have fled dangerous situations and need to remain anonymous or with a low profile, to let us know how badly we are doing with our own refugee system. That is why we are committed to using this platform as a means of involving communities in the fight against Direct Provision and its poor treatment of those who are most vulnerable in society.

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