The Clonakilty Group of Amnesty International will play its part in a campaign to improve the lot of asylum seekers in this country with a petition signing in the Clonakilty market on Friday, September 19. Under the scheme known as ‘Direct Provision’, asylum seekers are accommodated in 34 centres throughout the country. The system was set up to provide them with food and a roof over their heads, during the six months it was assumed it would take to process their applications for refugee status. The reality has proved very different says Joy Larkcom.
There are currently over 4000 asylum seekers in the centres, the average waiting time is about three years, but considerable numbers have been in the system for over seven and up to 10 years.
The effect on family life is almost impossible to imagine. The conditions are often crowded, with small families in a single room, or even sharing with others. Privacy is limited. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work; Ireland being the only EU country, which denies them the right to work after six months in the country. Some are highly qualified, but have to rely on the weekly allowance of €19.10 for an adult and €9.60 for a child, which leaves little scope for leading ‘normal life’. They are unable to cook for themselves. Children go to local schools, but are not entitled to free third level education. At this stage they are treated as ‘overseas students’ so face fees of €10,000 or upwards. They are not entitled to regular social welfare. On top of these restrictions, they live with the constant uncertainty of their fate, and the very real fear of not being granted refugee status and being deported at short notice.
While this is a national issue — Ireland has been criticised by a UN committee for the operation of its direct provision system — it is also a local issue. Approximately 100 people live in ‘The Lodge’ in Clonakilty, some for over seven years. Clonakilty residents may have noticed the green and colourful shoots, which have recently appeared in the Friends Community Garden, on a plot of land opposite the Lodge. John Loughnan, former mayor of Clonakilty who has played a key role in establishing the garden, feels very strongly that with the current system, the refugees lead lives with no purpose and cannot fulfill their human potential. Thinking of all the Irish who have emigrated, he says “It is not Christian to allow this to happen: it is our duty to get involved”.
One reason for the intolerable length of time spent in Direct Provision is the complex process of applying for asylum. It was recently described in the Irish Times as ‘a labyrinthe system of appeal and review mechanism’. Welcome news is that the newly appointed Minister of Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD has recently announced the appointment a working group to review the claims procedure for asylum seekers.
To ensure this leads to a positive outcome, Amnesty International are calling on the Irish Government to, without delay, establish single procedure for assessing asylum claims; to ensure that conditions in the centre are an appropriate environment for families and children and to establish an independent complaints procedure for those in the centres.
The Clonakilty Amnesty group is inviting members of the Lodge community, the Mayor and the Mayor Council, to support the launch of its petition on September 19, and it is hoped that many members of the public will strengthen the case by becoming involved.
For further information contact Chairperson Sue Higgins, 023 8845056.