Lorraine Courtney: 'Direct Provision adds to migrants' misery - and there's no political will to change that'
Simon Coveney has said that those of us calling for an end to Direct Provision are "not living in the real world". Really? Are we such fantasists? It doesn't have to be like this surely - there are proven ways of doing things differently. Other countries don't feel the need to detain and imprison asylum seekers for years and years, so why do we?
What is it that these people threaten so greatly that we must lock them away in limbo? Report after report has shown that Direct Provision is failing the people it holds, it is not meeting the needs of vulnerable refugees. Nor is it listening to local communities' worries when creating a centre in their town and not in step with the actions other countries take when it comes to asylum seekers and, yet, nothing changes.
While the percentage of asylum seekers granted refugee status here is about average for the EU, we have the most unwieldy method of processing them. In Portugal, asylum seekers stay a maximum of two or three months in an NGO-run centre with self-catering units. After this people have the right to work and move into private accommodation.
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The majority of asylum seekers in Germany, the UK and Sweden are housed outside of traditional accommodation centres. Meanwhile in Belgium, asylum seekers are mostly given private accommodation after a certain period of time.
The Taoiseach told RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland' last week that our Direct Provision system is "not compulsory". It is. Because the weekly allowance of €38.80, medical card and other supports are only available if you actually live in a Direct Provision centre and if you leave you're on your own. Asylum seekers aren't entitled to rental allowances or social housing and are only able to look for a job when they have spent nine months sitting in Direct Provision.
In the Dáil last week, Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality David Stanton said that there has been a marked rise in asylum applications - figures have increased by 53pc in the first nine months of this year. All of the existing Direct Provision centres are overflowing and there are already 1,389 applicants living in 34 emergency accommodation centres around the country.
Direct Provision was intended only as a temporary measure when it was introduced in 1999, and 20 years later it not only continues but has been embedded as a permanent structure. The average waiting time for an interview with the International Protection Office is 10 months and this is only the beginning of a lengthy application and appeal process that can take a decade.
We make asylum seekers wait, wait for something to happen, to them or to someone else, their agency has been taken away from them. Their lives are stuck in a holding pattern until somebody, somewhere makes a decision about whether they can stay or they must go.
Sad stories leak out of the centres like one at the end of last year about a mother in Knockalisheen Accommodation Centre who was reportedly refused a slice of bread for her sick child. Staff told her that they had instructions from management not to give residents anything to eat outside meal times.
Charlie Flanagan has plans to open more Direct Provision centres in rural towns but after weeks of protests in Oughterard, the developer of the former Connemara Gateway Hotel announced he had withdrawn his tender to turn the building into a Direct Provision centre.
Flanagan was quick to talk about "grossly misleading comments" about Direct Provision services, without any acknowledgement of how his Government's plans for the town ignored the right of local people to decide what happens in their town.
The Government is once more refusing to acknowledge that Direct Provision isn't working for anyone - not the asylum seekers and not the inhabitants of small rural towns with their very real worries about overcrowding and overstretched services.
Fianna Fáil's Jim O'Callaghan suggested a system of "fostering" this week. "Many well-intentioned people want to help those who are seeking asylum," he told the Dáil last Thursday. "If we had a system in place similar to the fostering of children we could get some uptake in respect of it.
"People could be paid for taking in and putting up a small family or individuals who are seeking asylum." I wonder how many of our TDs would sign up?
We don't need more politicians with self-proclaimed moral superiority - virtue signalling to us and trying to show off a big heart and good intentions - without having to do anything specific. We don't need more token legislation. We need politicians doing the hard work, like teaching newcomers English, helping them find a job and a place to live, integrating them fully into local communities and Irish life, and making sure that those who arrive at our border without a visa are legitimate refugees.
But our Government isn't interested in doing the hard work and making the hard decisions. And hard decisions are often needed here to uphold the integrity of our system and sort out the genuine refugee cases from the economic migrants.
We need a fair asylum system that works properly, is as open as possible and has public support. We don't need endless virtue signalling from politicians who don't have the guts to come up with a better system.