The dispute over the rehousing of 111 asylum seekers from Mosney has once again thrown an unflattering light on the overstretched and oppressive asylum system. Deliberately designed to be uncomfortable enough to discourage bogus applicants, the system certainly lives up to its purpose, to the point where it is certainly arguable whether some of the most basic human rights of refugees are being honoured. The prolonged, bureaucratic application and appeals process, denying refugees their right to a speedy determination, hostel overcrowding, the puny level of “direct provision” cash support of €19.10 a week, and the denial of the right to seek work all need urgent review.
The current system also means that genuine asylum seekers, fleeing often horrendous regimes, and entitled under the 1951 Geneva Convention to asylum and protection, are unjustly trapped in a miserable limbo for years by a net designed on this presumption that all applicants are frauds deserving of every discomfort they face.
The Department of Justice makes the remarkable claim that “the Irish asylum determination system compares with the best in the world in terms of fairness, decision-making, determination structures and support services for asylum seekers including access to legal advice.” Would any of its clients concur? But this State certainly excels in one notable regard, its remakable rate of asylum rejections. Of 6,560 decisions last year only 395 or 6 per cent were positive, less than a quarter of both the EU average or that of the UK.
Ireland and Denmark are also alone in opting out of the EU reception directive, which requires that asylum seekers be allowed to take a job if a decision on their case is not forthcoming within 12 months. Today there is a backlog of 11,700 “leave to remain” cases waiting to be determined – at the current processing rate it will take at least six years to clear, although the procedures in the new Immigration Bill should speed future processing.
Six thousand of these applicants survive under the “direct provision” system in some 52 centres, half of them there for over three years. Typically they are sharing rooms with several others – up to five in some centres. This soul-destroying life of enforced idleness saps morale and the ability eventually to integrate into a workforce, and inevitably affects the physical and mental health of refugees. Figures obtained by The Irish Times show as many as 46 asylum seekers living in hostels have died over the past 10 years.
But more than 5,000 are also living in the community without State support, presumably helped by family and friends, many of them also undoubtedly working illegally. Recognising that reality by legalising their right to work after a year would hardly act as an incentive to travel to Ireland, and could save money by reducing dependence on State aid. Last year, 2,689 asylum applications were received, down from a peak of 11,634 in 2002 – no doubt the Department would say the result of the success of its deterrent policy, but also a function of the jobs crisis. Allowing the deferred integration of such numbers into the workforce should not be problematic.