The term ‘Direct Provision’ has made its way into the news a lot more frequently in recent months. In November, hundreds of people gathered to protest against the system that has spanned almost eighteen years now. Despite the attention Direct Provision is finally beginning to garner, there is still confusion amongst the public about what exactly Direct Provision is and who it is for.
The Reception and Integration Agency defines it as “a means of meeting the basic needs of food and shelter for asylum seekers directly while their claims for refugee status are being processed”. Indeed, the basic needs of asylum seekers are met. But these basics are only enough to ensure mere survival, far from a proper life here in Ireland.
The system began in 2000 as a ‘temporary solution’ which would provide shelter for asylum seekers for six months. Today, there are over 4,000 people awaiting refugee status in Ireland, some of whom have remained for years in what feels like an endless waiting game. In fact, according to The Irish Immigration Support Centre, the majority of asylum seekers spend more than 4 years in Direct Provision.
While their application for asylum is being processed, they are given shelter in small and overcrowded residential institutions, where bathroom and dining facilities are shared. Their meals are provided at specific times of the day and in most centres, if they miss these meals, they are still not allowed to cook for themselves instead. They are given a personal allowance of 21.60 per week and are entitled to a medical card.
Children are entitled to free primary and post-primary education in the same way that Irish children are, but asylum seeking children are unable to progress to third level. They do not qualify for free fees like the Irish children they do their final exams with. International fees for students who wish to attend university in Ireland can cost up to 18,000 per year. Given that adults and children in the Direct Provision system earn less than 1,500 per year, this is simply out of the question.
Therefore, perhaps the biggest problem with this system is that asylum seekers are not allowed to work. The ban on asylum seekers working means they are given no real opportunity to integrate into Irish society. Instead, they are segregated and made entirely dependent on an oppressive system. Many asylum seekers are qualified in areas such as healthcare, education and science but they cannot put these well needed skills to use. As a result of so many idle years without work, many adults in the Direct Provision system find themselves gradually losing their abilities and confidence and falling into mental illness.
In May 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban on asylum seekers working was unconstitutional. Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has confirmed that adults in Direct Provision will soon be able to work provided they have been here for over 9 months. However, now the government is debating whether the ban should be lifted entirely or if asylum seekers should be restricted to only working in certain types of jobs. They deny that this would be a discriminatory decision to make.