Asylum seekers forced to wait up to 10 years to be given refugee status
PEOPLE seeking asylum in Ireland could face up to 10 years in direct provision before being granted refugee status and the opportunity to build a new life.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Irish Refugee Council CEO Sue Conlon called for a "more humane system" and dismissed claims that the current rise in asylum applications is linked to the improving economy.
"Numbers have gone up across the EU, and Ireland is in line with that but the majority are going to EU border and Mediterranean countries," she said. "We are seeing the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War and it has nothing to do with the improvement on the economy.
According to the Department of Justice, there has been a 40pc increase in asylum applications to the end of August, compared to last year.
Based on current trends, the department expects around 1,300 applications, compared to 950 in 2013.
Although asylum applicants are entitled to a range of supports as soon as they enter the system, they could end up waiting in direct provision for refugee status for up to a decade.
"The initial application can be dealt with within six months, but we have a peculiar system with three different, separate types of application and they all take their own length of time. That's why we have a back log," Ms Conlan added.
The asylum process can take a minimum of three years.
However, Ms Conlon says she recently met someone who only got a decision on her second application after 10 years.
While waiting for their status to be determined they are completely dependent upon the state for everything.
"At the moment they can seek social support, €19.10 for the adult, €9.60 for the child, they can't go onto a social housing register because they haven't had their stamp to stay long enough," she said. "They can work and move on to some form of educational training once they've got their stamp and permission to stay, but not while they are waiting."
The Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner is the statutory independent body responsible for the processing of asylum applications at first instance.
A spokesperson for the Department said various initiatives are being taken to deal with the increasing numbers including the redeployment of resources and scheduling of additional interviews.
People who do not meet the requirements of the definition of a refugee may be granted "Subsidiary Protection" or "Leave to Remain" status meaning they can work, apply to social welfare, and try to seek private rental accommodation with rent allowance if you can get it.
"We need an end to the current system, it is a form of institutionalised living. When people eventually move on they find it very difficult to make a positive contribution to the community," said Ms Conlan. "There is flexibility and bed space but we need to be quicker. We need to get parents controlling their child's environment much better, cooking for themselves, eating food that is appropriate for diet or health and so we are asking for it to be significantly revised," said Ms Conlan, adding that her office has dealt mostly with Syrians and Libyans in recent months.
Currently there are 34 accommodation centres for asylum seekers in 16 counties around the country ranging from a former holiday camp in Mosney, Co Meath, to mobile homes, former schools and hostels.
Jennifer Dewan, campaign and communications officer at Nasc Ireland, a Cork based non-Governmental organisation responding to the needs of immigrants in the Munster area, said the long wait for refugee status can take a huge mental,emotional, physical and social toll. "If you are a refugee you are fleeing conflict and war zones, your family may have been killed and you can't return home for fear of persecution," she said adding that the government needs to do more.
"These people are coming here seeking our protection and we need to be doing everything that we can to ensure that people feel protected even in the application process."