The Ombudsman has expressed concern over what he calls the “unsuitability” of the direct provision system.
He said that the highly contagious nature of the COVID-19 virus has highlighted how unsustainable it is to have three or more people, who are not from the same family, living in the same room for a significant amount of time. The situation exists for many people in direct provision centres, and particularly for the increasing number of people living in emergency accommodation.
The Ombudsman was speaking after the publication of his annual commentary on his experience of dealing with complaints from those in the direct provision system. It’s the Ombudsman’s third commentary since it was confirmed that his Office has jurisdiction to investigate complaints from those in direct provision.
The Ombudsman said his Office saw a 10.5% increase in the number of complaints made (from 152 in 2018 to 168 in 2019). Complaints ranged from the length of time in emergency accommodation, transfers to other accommodation, access to schools for children, food facilities, and access to GP services and medical cards.
The Ombudsman said that the most significant change he saw in 2019 was the increase in the number of applicants for international protection temporarily living in emergency accommodation in hotels, guesthouses, and bed and breakfast accommodation. At the start of 2020 there were 1,524 people in 37 different locations across the country.
The Ombudsman said:
“Current Direct Provision accommodation is not appropriate for anything other than short-term stay. Emergency accommodation is even more inappropriate. It is unacceptable that people who have sought refuge here can find themselves in accommodation that is entirely unsuitable for a prolonged period – up to 16 months and longer in some cases.”
The system has come under heavy critizism by groups including the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI).
Bulelani Mfaco, spokesperson for MASI said: “The Ombudsman has once again highlighted that Direct Provision is not suitable for longterm stays. Some of our members have spent as long as 5 years being denied the right to dignity in Ireland’s abhorrent system of Direct Provision.”
“MASI hopes that the Irish government will, as a matter of urgency, phase out the cruel system of Direct Provision which traps asylum seeking children in state sponsored poverty for years and robs them of their childhood. It is time for the Irish government to start listening to the experts since it has ignored the voices of asylum seekers in the past 20 years of Direct Provision.”
A spokesperson for the Friends of Tullamore DPC group said: “Direct Provision has evolved from the short term system it was originally intended to be into long term detention. This report clearly lists the issues that have been identified as in need of urgent reform and we would urge the incoming government to take these recommendations into consideration in implementing meaningful and much needed change.”