DIVERSITY + INCLUSION

Real reform or merely recognition? Examining O’Gorman’s plan to end Direct Provision

sign saying "right delayed is a right denied"
Orla Patton

Róisín O’Donnell

19th April 2021

Minister Roderic O’Gorman, in late February, published the White Paper detailing a new system of reception and accommodation for International Protection Applicants. The publication of the report has ignited calls for a State apology to the people who have lived in the system. O’Gorman, in response, suggested that the most important thing the State could do right now was “create a new system”. This new system will be based on a “human rights approach” that seeks to facilitate “integration with independence”. Many argue that the establishment of Direct Provision in 2000 represented a clear shift towards a policy of deterrence. The question is whether the new system– supposedly guided by different principles– will create a fair and dignified experience for people who seek protection in Ireland.

 

For two decades activists, not-for-profit organisations, journalists and a number of State commissioned reports have drawn attention to the devastating impact of living in Direct Provision. As early as 2001, reports highlighted poor conditions and concerns about child welfare. Why has change been proposed now? The White Paper—and the broader commitment to overhauling the system by 2024—was included in the Programme for Government, as demanded by the Green Party. An expert advisory group was commissioned in 2020 to inform the White Paper, producing what is known as the Day Report. Some argue that the State’s history of institutional abuse, exemplified by the recent Mother and Baby Home report, has focused attention on Direct Provision.Fiona Finn, the CEO of Nasc, speaking at an event examining the White Paper, stated that the report represented a “sea change” and highlighted the “inclusive” language. The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) are particularly concerned about the fact that the proposed changes will not be enacted through legislation.

 

 

“Professor Bryan Fanning and Dr. Lucy Michael argue that “forms of discrimination sanctioned by legislation, such as the lesser benefits entitlements of asylum seekers or non-citizen immigrants, are all too easily excluded from debates about racism and inequality”.”

Unless structural and systemic issues—some of which are outlined below—are addressed, references to integration and inclusion will remain meaningless.

 

New model, old challenges: accommodating and supporting asylum seekers

The new system will involve a Phase One period in which applicants are housed in purpose-built Reception and Integration Centres for four months, providing own-door accommodation for families and own-room accommodation for single people. Health assessments, legal aid, English language classes, healthcare and employment activation services will be available. Phase two will seek to transition applicants into accommodation within the community. The multi-strand approach to provision of housing will include commissioning Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs); urban renewal projects; rent a room schemes and private tenancies. The role of not-for-profit organisations, funded by the State, is reiterated throughout, particularly in provision of support to people with specific needs and vulnerabilities.

 

The failure of the State to manage housing provision raises concern about its capacity to build on the scale necessary to house asylum seekers with dignity. However, concerns of institutional capacity go beyond the issue of housing. Recent reports on the severe shortage of community mental health services undermines the promise of an “enhanced model of community healthcare”. The leading role of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) is positive, but the report is clear that “the skills and resources required to implement such a model are not currently held by DCEDIY”. Real concerns of institutional capacity to implement the new system undermine the promise of meeting the 2024 deadline.

 

‘Integration from day one’?: remaining barriers to work and education

In Phase One asylum seekers will receive a weekly payment similar to the current rate of €38.80. A means tested payment, similar to the Supplementary Welfare Allowance of €203, will be provided during Phase Two. The right to work for asylum seekers—implemented in 2018—remains inaccessible to many. The Day Report clearly recommends that applicants be permitted to enter the labour market within three months of submitting a protection application, but the White Paper has decided on a 6-month period. MASI clearly states that “the ‘integration from day one’ phrase we have heard from the government is illusory if the State maintains restrictions on the right to work”.

 

The international student charge for Post Leaving Cert courses will be waived for people in the system who have access to the labour market. However, only asylum seekers who have been in Ireland for three years will be eligible for financial support, similar to the SUSI grant, to access third-level education.

 

Bulelani Mfaco, activist and MASI spokesperson, speaking at the same event, highlighted that many “Irish people who have jobs struggle”. The new system will maintain restrictions on work, education and access to welfare for asylum seekers, impacting their ability to integrate into Irish society.

 

A new system, but the same Department of Justice

MASI, Nasc and others are clear that action must be taken to clear the backlog of cases to avoid undermining the transition to the new system. The number of cases currently waiting to be processed by the International Protection Office is now 5,279. Fiona Finn stated clearly, “we are calling on the Department of Justice to apply the same bravery and ambition outlined in the accommodation process to the determination process”. The Day Report clearly recommended that people who have been in the Direct Provision system for more than two years should be given permission to remain. The Department has committed to a review of the application process, but ‘with a target date’ for reform ‘of Q2 2023’. Nasc, in a recent statement, stressed their frustration: “this is simply too late – we cannot in good conscience ask people to spend another 18 months in limbo”.

 

Vague commitments to ‘community interconnectedness’; a very brief discussion on the wellbeing of applicants; maintenance of some institutional living; and a lack of clarity for those currently in the system are all aspects that undermine the report. But the clear lack of commitment of the Department of Justice—the agency in which Direct Provision and the underlying principle of deterrence was conceived—is of most concern. The time people spend in the system remains one of the most crucial issues. Fiona Finn clearly states that “people need to know and need to be assured that this time it is different, that this time Direct Provision will finally end”.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by A Ryan on Flickr

 

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