Asylum seekers would be given own-door accommodation after three months and long waits for decisions would be banned under sweeping reforms proposed for the Direct Provision system.
An expert group has called on the state to overhaul Ireland’s “dysfunctional” Direct Provision model and replace it with a new permanent system by 2023 which would make local councils legally responsible for finding own-door accommodation for asylum seekers.
Catherine Day, who led the group, said its recommendations had already prompted “quite a lot of concern” in the Department of Housing over how accommodation would be found during a housing crisis.
Under the plans congregated and segregated Direct Provision centres, many of which are run by private companies paid by the state, would be replaced with state-owned reception centres where up to 3,500 asylum seekers a year would spend their first three months after applying for leave to remain in Ireland.
After three months, asylum seekers would be moved to own-door temporary accommodation spread across the country which councils would be legally bound to provide, through ring-fenced funding.
Asylum seekers would be housed in areas where they could integrate with local people, and housing in remote and isolated areas would be avoided. Asylum seekers would receive an allowance while staying in reception centres, which would change to housing and social welfare payments once they are in own-door accommodation.
Catherine Day, the former secretary general of the European Commission, led the expert group which published its report today (Wednesday).
Local councils would use private rental accommodation to house asylum seekers, in a similar way to how homeless people are housed in private rental tenancies through HAP.
Ms Day said there had been some concerns from the government over plans for own-door accommodation during a housing crisis.
“It would be fair to say that there was quite a lot of concern in the Department of Housing,” Ms Day said.
She said her expert group was careful not to do anything that would create the impression of asylum seekers having an advantage in accessing housing.
She said her group was recommending a HAP style scheme, because it is the approach “least likely” to cause a xenophobic backlash.
“It doesn’t mean that there is any jumping of the local housing authority list,” she said. Ms Day said if the government was committed to ending Direct Provision, her group had understood that to mean moving away from congregated accommodation. “The only other option … is own door accommodation,” she said.
The report said that it understood calling for councils to find own-door accommodation was “ambitious.”
“But unless an ambitious approach is driven as a political priority within the lifetime of the current government, many people will continue to languish in unsuitable Direct Provision centres for years to come,” it said.
Long waits for asylum decisions, which have left some people living in Direct Provision for years, would also be banned under the proposals.
The group said there should be a binding six month limit on asylum decisions, followed by another six month deadline on appeals. It said that the current backlog of cases should be cleared by the end of 2022 “at the latest.” It suggested a one-off system where unaccompanied minors and anyone who has been in Direct Provision for more than two years would be given leave to remain for 5 years “after security vetting.”
By the end of July, there were 1,296 people who had been in Direct Provision for 2 years, 666 for 3 years, 538 for 4 years and 260 people who had been in the system for 5 years.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the government would look at the recommendation but “at this moment in time it’s not something that I can give a commitment to.”
The expert group said that last year, the “inadequate and very expensive” Direct Provision system cost the state €178.5 million.
The group estimated that if the new system had been in place, the state would have saved €35.9 million in 2019. Under the new system, asylum seekers would have the right to apply for a driving licence and the right to work within certain time limits. The expert group also proposed dropping the term “Direct Provision” under the new system and making sure asylum seekers are able to mix with local communities “as early as possible.”
The government has committed to publishing a white paper that would set out a new model for Direct Provision by the end of this year. Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman said the current system was a “sticking plaster solution” which had not been thought through but had lasted for 20 years.
“Change will take time and the process of moving from the current system will be complex. However, it is important that we immediately begin to create a more humane system, rooted in human rights.”