Direct Provision being allowed to continue for decades is both outrageous and tragic

In advance of the MASI conference towards a more humane asylum process, the right to work ruling is the latest token legislation and symptomatic of the broken system that is Direct Provision.

Protestors against Direct Provision march holding banners

This Saturday, the MASI Conference 2019: Towards A More Humane Asylum Process takes place in Liberty Hall. It will bring together people in the asylum system from all over the country to talk about bringing an end to the Direct Provision system. In advance of the event, let’s take a look at Direct Provision and exactly what it means for someone in the system.

In Ireland, more than 6,000 men, women and children seeking international protection are languishing in a dangerous and damaging system that systematically robs them of their humanity. Direct Provision is a flawed attempt to provide aid and shelter to vulnerable people seeking asylum. The fact that this system has been allowed to continue for decades is both outrageous and tragic.

For those who don’t know, Direct Provision was established in 1999 as a temporary measure, but 20 years later it remains in place. When people in need of international protection arrive in Ireland, they are placed in one of 34 “accommodation centres” in cities and rural areas around the country. There, they spend their time waiting for a verdict on their applications for protection, often for years.

Instead of providing those people with financial assistance, so that they may support themselves and integrate into society, the Government provides aid directly in the form of these accommodation centres, where food and shelter are managed by private catering companies (which the Government last year paid €72 million). The result is a paternalistic system in which mealtimes are dictated, the movement of residents is restricted and their ability to live independently is negated. People in this system are deprived of their fundamental right to privacy, professional development and integration into society. The whole process is unnecessarily cruel.

Cruelest of all is perhaps the amount of time that people are forced to spend in limbo while they wait for a decision on their asylum applications. Recent figures show that the average waiting time for an interview with the International Protection Office is 10 months. This is a slight improvement compared to last year when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the average waiting time for an interview was 19 months. But this initial interview is also just the start of a long application process that can stretch on for years before a person receives a final decision.

Such long periods spent in government-provided accommodations “is leading to dependency and disempowerment among many people seeking protection, hampering their integration prospects,” the UNHCR has said.

One small improvement to this situation came last year when the Supreme Court ruled that the Government’s ban on asylum seekers working in Ireland was unconstitutional. Now, people who have been in Direct Provision for at least nine months and are still waiting for an initial decision on their applications can apply for jobs. This offers people a small measure of independence and agency. Yet under the current system, this right to work is barely implementable.

For one, most employers in the state require some form of official identification. For migrant workers, this is usually either a passport or Irish residence permit. People in need of international protection have neither. In addition to the stigma associated with their status as an “asylum seeker”, people in need of international protection also have to deal with the legal and tax complexities that a lot of employers are not willing to face.

A review is currently underway as to whether people in the system should be allowed to apply for driver’s licenses, but currently, this right is also stripped from them. This means that the majority of job applicants, who are sent to some of the most remote parts of Ireland, have almost no ability to get to urban areas where jobs might be found.

Given such roadblocks, the “right to work” seems almost absurd. This situation could be improved if large corporations, which currently take advantage of the low corporate tax in Ireland, play an active role in creating employment opportunities and providing job training. Such programs for people seeking international protection could help them move out of government-supplied accommodations and start their lives in their communities. Instead of the growing number of people damaged by a cruel, dysfunctional and expensive system of Direct Provision, we can get a number of people working for their own and for the common good. Such programs would not just benefit employers, but also function as real corporate social responsibility.

The real solution, however, is to end Direct Provision entirely. Direct Provision is an inherently dysfunctional system that institutionalises people, separates them from the community and strips them of their most valuable assets, such as their independence. Thousands of people have come to Ireland in search of a better life. Direct Provision isn’t the welcome they deserve.

John Malcolm Anderson is a technologist, activist and visual artist from the West of Ireland. His field of work includes data activism, corporate social responsibility, international protection and LGBT+ issues.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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