Asylum Seekers, Reception Conditions and Value for Money

Direct-ProvisionOn July 30th the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) published Value for Money & Policy Review: Asylum Seeker Accommodation Programme (May 2010). Éidín Ní Shé has noted some of the main recommendations relating to the closure of some current reception centres so as to reduce RIA expenditure on accommodation for asylum seekers. There are two aspects which I find interesting in this review (1) the rationale for the operation of direct provision and (2) the objections to mainstreaming asylum seekers within the current welfare system.

Rationale for Operation of Direct Provision

Direct provision and dispersal is presented as a means of controlling illegal immigration,  preventing future asylum flows if Ireland was to have more favourable reception standards than Britain and  re-directing asylum seekers away from Dublin due to strains on social services. Refusing the right to work and barring access to traditional welfare supports, though providing for the basic needs of asylum seekers is viewed as complying with international legal obligations-the Refugee Convention and an EU Directive on Minimum Standards for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (which Ireland has not opted into, however,  the report states that this was because it included a limited right to work for asylum seekers who were within the status determination system). There was no analysis of Ireland’s other international legal obligations, which are outlined in full in the Free Legal Advice Centres One Size Doesn’t Fit All report. The report also notes how the RIA’s functions are open to international scrutiny, citing visits by the United Nation’s High Commission for Refugee’s representative and the Council of Europe‘s Human Rights CommissionerMr. Thomas Hammarberg.

What is not mentioned is Mr. Hammarberg’s assessment of the direct provision system from the 2008 Country Report on Ireland. The Human Right’s Commissioner noted that while the one facility he had  visited was of a good standard, he stated that the direct provision system resulted in a low standard of personal autonomy for asylum seekers, given the length of time that many are in the asylum system.Mr. Hammerbergs recommendation that asylum seekers be provided with a temporary work visa was rejected by the Government due to pressures this could cause on the labour market and the possible exploitation of the asylum system by economic migrants.

The justifications of the Value for Money Report for the direct provision system is akin to arguing the ‘floodgate’ argument and accepts the highly simplified approach of the UK in viewing the welfare state as a pull factor for those seeking asylum. While it may be a factor, familial or fraternal links to the host state, the recognition rate for asylum/subsidiary protection status within the host state, ability to speak the dominant language in the host state and familiarity with the traditions and cultures of the host state equally count. For some, where they are being brought into a host state by a trafficker, none of the previous reasons may be relevant.

Mainstreaming Welfare Supports

Closely linked in with the dominant rationale of preventing abusive claims or asylum claims attracted by a more generous social welfare system, are the arguments of the RIA Value for Money Report for not allowing those seeking asylum to be supported within the traditional welfare state structures. The RIA report notes that accommodation centres would still have to be initially provided to facilitate medical screenings, registration for social welfare services and initial dealings with the Office of the Refugee Application’s Commissioner. The overall cost of initial accommodation, provision of rent allowance and mainstream welfare supports would be comparable. There are around 16,000 in various stages of the asylum process, of which almost 7,000 are within the direct provision system. The Value for Money report suggests that the cost of a mainstreaming approach would result in the 9,000 or so applicants not in the asylum system being entitled to social welfare, and potentially doubling the cost of direct provision.

In this, we see a rather crude argument in favour of direct provision: not everybody will avail of it due to its current structure and this reduces costs. The Value for Money report failed to consider the possibility that some of the 9,000 persons will have their own resources and would have to go through the same assessment procedures as citizens and other residents in the State. The Value for Money report trumped exclusionary norms based on broad assumptions rather than examining long-term impacts on those within enclosed accommodation with very little money cash in hand. The approach of the RIA report bolsters arguments I have previously made, that as well as seeking to provide for the most basic needs of asylum seekers, the direct provision system is one which punishes those who dare seek asylum in Ireland.

As Saoirse Brady from FLAC notes:

The system of direct provision and dispersal dehumanises residents and is used as a “push factor”.  It operates as an industry without taking into account its intended purpose which is to ensure that the Irish State is fulfilling its duty of care to people seeking protection, under both domestic and international human rights law.  The system was set up to serve the requirements of the bureaucrats who administer it rather than addressing the needs of residents themselves.  Therefore, direct provision has a negative impact on a number of human rights … including the right to an adequate standard of health and housing, the right to work, the right to food and freedom of expression and association…