Today is International Human Rights Day 2013. This year, the theme is one of reflection on twenty years of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action on Human Rights. The Vienna Declaration emphasised the indivisibility and interconnectedness of all human rights protections. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is emphasising the human rights achievements over the last two decades. Indeed, the achievements of Ireland in the protection of human rights over the last twenty years should be commended in a host of areas: free speech, LGBT rights, placing refugee status determination on a statutory footing; further attempts to protect socio-economic rights; establishing a national human rights institution and providing some domestic effect to the European Convention on Human Rights (amongst a select few achievements). This is not to say that Ireland is fully complying with its international or European human rights obligations in all these areas, but things have significantly progressed in the last two decades. One issue that has emerged in the last 20 years however, has been how Ireland treats those who claim asylum in this State.
The modalities of direct provision were communicated to various government departments on international human rights day in December 1999. Fourteen years later, the Irish Refugee Council is today highlighting alternatives to the system of direct provision. The urgency for a different approach and a new way forward is further evidenced by yesterday’s reports from Dr Joan Giller in West Cork of the tremendous damage that the system of direct provision is causing.
In a new report the Irish Refugee Council is seeking to add to the debate on alternatives to the direct provision system. Today, they have launched their new report, Direct Provision: Framing an Alternative Reception System for People Seeking International Protection. The Irish Refugee Council make it very clear, that not all the proposals contained are definitive nor is the report exhaustive, but the purpose of this very timely report is to start the debate on alternatives to the system of direct provision. While recognising the need for a transition to new arrangements, the Irish Refugee Council’s proposals include:
- A single protection procedure be introduced as soon as possible in 2014 in order that the aim of processing the majority of new asylum claims within six months can be achieved. Asylum seekers be granted early legal advice when dealing with their asylum claim.
- The weekly allowance currently paid to asylum seekers be increased in line with the increases in social welfare since 2001.
- Restoration of universal child benefit for the children of asylum seekers.
- Stays in reception centres be limited to 6 months, and such accommodation respects family life and the best interests of the child. There should be an independent complaints and inspection mechanisms.
- A system be introduced to identify particularly vulnerable asylum seekers;
- After six months in a reception centre, an asylum seeker be granted the right to work and the right to access the private rental market. Access to rent supplement/supplementary welfare allowance to be made on basis of satisfying means test already established.
It remains to be seen, whether this time next year, there will be progress towards dismantling the current direct provision system.