Why Don’t We Just...

...End the Inhumane Treatment of Asylum Seekers in Ireland and the UK?

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Asylum seekers have once again been catapulted into the centre of a hostile debate in Britain. Yet as the Home Office searches for unscrupulous methods to make the Channel “unviable”, the Republic of Ireland is finally holding up the mirror to examine its inhumane treatment that has been swept under the rug for the past 20 years.

Since 2000, those in search of refuge have been housed in one of 38 for-profit Direct Provision centres in Ireland. Here, privately-owned hotels, hostels, guest houses, caravan parks and other communal accommodation centres have been offloaded with the responsibility to cater and care for these vulnerable, and often traumatised, individuals.

However, problems with the system have persisted throughout, with campaigners arguing that Direct Provision prioritises profits over people and has become a “de facto detention”.

Indeed, asylum seekers are crammed into tiny hotel rooms with strangers, doomed to eat the “inedible” food provided by catering services. Women and children have emerged with malnutrition. Asylum claimants in Ireland are granted only the illusion of freedom when, by and large, placements are a lottery: some may hit gold, being housed in a city centre while others are hidden off the beaten track, some miles away from civilisation.

Their situation is exacerbated by the inordinately lengthy stays in Direct Provision with waiting times stretching to several years. There is no guarantee of refugee status or Irish citizenship at the end of the tunnel either, with the rejection rate standing at an eye-watering 70 per cent. Many have died waiting.

After years of being suspended in limbo and scattered all across the Emerald Isle, it is no wonder many depart Direct Provision feeling institutionalised, with serious mental health and self-esteem issues to boot.

Fortunately, the winds of change appear to be rolling over the state with the newly formed coalition government pledging to end Direct Provision once and for all in the next few years.

However, with little indication as to what the new system may look like, fresh fears are emerging that Ireland may adapt a UK-style system, where asylum seekers are either herded into an immigration removal centre, a prison or left to wait out the verdict of their claim in temporary housing that is placed in disadvantaged areas all across the country.

Private contractors and landlords here too push for profits, leaving asylum seekers, including women with children, to deal with poor living standards and rat-infested properties. Although Ireland rarely detains migrants, the end of Direct Provision could see new reliance on detention centres just for capacity purposes, particularly as one of the reasons Direct Provision is coming to an end is because it cannot meet demand.

Ireland allows its asylum population to enter the workforce – an initiative the UK government remains hostile to

Yet ill-treatment and unlawful detention has become so rife in the UK that the Home Office frequently plunges into the public purse to dish out compensation to asylum seekers, with new figures showing the government coughed up £6.9 million last year and £8.2 million in 2018.

Still, at the very least Ireland allows its asylum population to enter the workforce – an initiative the UK government remains hostile to, no matter the clear economic advantages it would present. Instead, the UK remains undeterred from keeping the UK as unwelcoming and bureaucratically traumatic as possible for those seeking sanctuary.

There are certainly far worse places in the world to claim asylum than the UK or Ireland, but both countries are in a race to the bottom. While Ireland has enjoyed financial gains by inflicting poverty onto some of the world’s most vulnerable people, it must not now borrow further cruel and degrading tactics from by its neighbour, the UK, in its blueprint for the future.

A fair and compassionate system is possible, we just haven’t seen it yet.

Olivia Bridge is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service

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