6th June 2020

DIRECT PROVISION: ARE THERE REALLY NO ALTERNATIVES?

Are there really no alternatives to the Direct Provision System?

This question can also be put as: Are there no alternatives to cruelty?

Direct provision is cruelty!

#COVID19: We are right to say “we will not go back to the old ‘normal’ of two-tier health–system, workers exploitation, housing crisis and the strangling of our public services”. For Asylum seekers, #COVID19 or not, the misery of the Direct Provision System continues.

They cannot be left behind in the old ‘normal’.

ALTERNATIVES TO DIRECT PROVISION SYSTEM

As the public and political pressure to end direct provision mounts, the government politicians have mastered the skill to repeat the line that there are no alternatives to replace it.

Using the misery of refugee camps in Greek Islands as a stick, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar threatened all by saying, “Direct provision is imperfect but alternative is camps and containers” before skillfully mentioning the housing crisis for not ending it: “We are not in a position to give a house or an apartment to every asylum seeker”, directly playing into the hands of those that organised racist rallies and marched onto the direct provision centres.

What he said was plain and simple: We have a housing crisis and if you don’t want to be in worse conditions put up and shut up!

The Minster for Justice, Charlie Flanagan accused those of us campaigning for #EndDirectProvision of having no alternative proposals.  He said, “I have yet to hear a credible alternative being proposed in almost two decades to the current system

There are very credible and doable alternatives to the Direct Provision System. The same is not the case for political will and a genuine interest by the state in the well-being of asylum seekers.

Charlie Flanagan needs no further searching than the files in his own department to find some alternatives. Furthermore. if he wants there are also plenty of proposals from civil society groups, trade unions and activists that can help with a radical solution.

ALTERNATIVES BY RECEPTION AND INTEGRATION AGENCY

In 2010, the Reception and Integration Agency (under Department of Justice) published a 78-page report, titled: “Value for Money and Policy Review. Asylum Seeker Accommodation Programme”

Chapter 5 of this report looks into options for direct provision alternatives. It lists 3 options to replace the existing system: “The previous chapter, in its examination of efficiency looked, for comparison purposes, at two Direct Provision alternatives. This chapter looks at four options that could be chosen to meet the objective, three of which would not involve Direct Provision

  • Option 1: Asylum Seekers allowed to claim Social Welfare and Rent Supplement
  • Option 2: Accommodate Asylum Seekers in Self-Catering Accommodation
  • Option 3: Local Authority Housing

Each option is described in the report

OPTION 1: Asylum Seekers allowed to claim Social Welfare and Rent Supplement

The supports that this group could be entitled to claim include: Supplementary Welfare Allowance, Rent Supplement, Fuel allowance, Child Benefit, Early Childcare Supplement, Exceptional Needs Payments and Back to School Clothing and Footwear payments.

According to estimates this option will have a net Additional Annual Social Welfare/Rent Allowance Cost of €84,755,905.87

OPTION 2: Accommodate Asylum Seekers in Self-Catering Accommodation

The RIA currently operates a limited supply of self-catering accommodation units within the direct provision structure. Self-catering differs from direct provision in that residents are allowed cook for themselves (including purchasing their own food). The centres will have a manager and appropriate security on-site and deal with any maintenance requirements.

The option under consideration here is to move all asylum seekers into self-catering accommodation.

According to the report, the annual cost of accommodating 6,917 people would be €103m made up of a social welfare cost of €47.5m and a self-catering accommodation cost of €55.5m.

OPTION 3: Local Authority Housing

Allowing asylum seekers to seek local authority housing is effectively just another variant of Options 1 & 2 considered above. Local authority housing would be substituted for private rented accommodation or self-catering accommodation. Under this scenario, asylum seekers would have to be allowed to claim social welfare entitlements as they would be providing for their own needs but would not be allowed to work.

The social welfare costs for this option would be the same as for Option1 for the June 2009 cohort of 6,917 at €53.4m (social welfare option excluding rent allowance). In addition to the baseline social welfare costs, there would be significant costs to the State associated with any solution involving local authority housing.

CONCLUSION OF THE REPORT: THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES… BUT NO!

All of the three alternatives investigated were rejected by the report. The reasons for rejections were given as HIGH COSTS, LACK of HOUSING and LOCAL SERVICES, CONTROLLING the DISPERSAL of ASYLUM SEEKERS and, most shockingly NOT TO CREATE ANY PULL FACTORS [therefore encouraging more to come to Ireland by giving asylum seekers better living conditions].

The report concluded, “…Three [options] involve a move away from direct provision with a shift to social welfare based entitlements. All three of these options would be more expensive than direct provision and potentially would cost twice as much. None of these options is therefore worthy of further consideration and the conclusion is that direct provision is the best option. There may be improvements on how direct provision is implemented and recommendations for improvement are in the final chapter.

“Direct Provision: From comparison with a number of options including social welfare and self-catering, the chosen policy of direct provision was found to be the best choice for a number of reasons. It is less costly, it is less likely to act as an incentive to new asylum seekers (ASYLUM SHOPPING) and it allows the State to manage the challenge of asylum seekers in a way that reduces pressure on local services.”

You can read the specific conclusions in the Appendix below.

A CONCLUSION ON THE CONCLUSION OF THE REPORT

In 20 years, the State has spent more than €1.3 billion on direct provision, the vast majority going to private companies. This is on average nearly €70m a year over 20 years

COSTS: In all of the cost predictions presented in the report, the expectation is that asylum seekers will NOT be working, earning their own wages and eventually becoming economically self sufficient. The mentality of the time (and now) is that the state controls all aspects of their lives and doesn’t allow asylum seekers become normal workers and members of the community. This is the “pull factor” nonsense yet again. The state policy is to make sure asylum seekers – unless they are granted formal refugee status – don’t sink any roots in society and become part of networks of solidarity, join trade unions etc. This would normalize their lives and remove many aspects of state control. Furthermore people in communities are more difficulty to deport.

The report compares the cost of direct provision with the cost of economically and socially trapping people and argues for the cheaper direct provision system. Asylum seekers, given the full right to work will build up their lives and contribute to the economy, never mind being a burden to social welfare.

CONTROLLING PEOPLES’ LIVES IN DIRECT PROVISION – A COSTLY EXERCISE!

GIVING PEOPLE THE FREEDOM TO BUILD THEIR LIVES… PRICELESS!

PULL FACTOR: The phrase pull factor is not new. It emerged along with the term “bogus-asylum seekers” in early 2000’s. It is used to describe conditions that – supposedly – give people the incentive to leave their lives and loved ones, take dangerous journeys and come to Ireland to seek asylum. It is also used to distract from the real reasons why people are fleeing their homes (push factors) such as wars, political-gender oppression, torture, dictatorial regimes etc…  

Pull factor is used by every EU government to justify unacceptable conditions they put asylum seekers in and the racist immigration policies they implement. It also gives them a cover for letting people die at the borders of Europe. Pull factor is one of the most dangerous immigration control terms ever to be invented.

LACK OF HOUSING and LOCAL SERVICES: Since the crisis of 2008/9 every government has used housing, health and the jobs crises as an excuse for not ending the Direct Provision System. Sometimes, this dangerously translated to “looking after our own first”. The truth is, it is the very same governments that created the massive housing and health crises and cut the funding of local/public services. With or without asylum seekers, the past and future FG/FF+ governments have no interest in solving the housing crisis and provide homes for all people in need.

They are simply blaming themselves in the past for today’s problems while creating the problems of the future.

Only a government that will genuinely deal with the housing crisis and provide public build homes for all; create a functioning-free public health system; protect workers will be willing to end the Direct Provision System.

The economic mentality of the governments behind the Direct Provision System in Ireland is no different to their response to housing or health crisis: While ordinary people are left to suffer from lack of public provisions and duty of care, private companies have been enjoying millions in profits from the ‘business of suffering’. With direct provision there is also the additional racism of the state at play.

A SHORT HISTORY OF DIRECT PROVISION – WILL THE NEXT GOVERNMENT FINALLY END IT?

Direct Provision System was established 20 years ago. Since its launch, with the exception of granting asylum seekers a very limited right to work in 2018 – thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that declared the ban preventing asylum seekers from working, was unconstitutional – none of the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats; Fianna Fáil/Green Party; Fine Gael/Labour Party; Fine Gael/ Independents government have made significant policy changes on asylum seekers and the wider Direct Provision System. In total, 7 governments have presided over this system that was initially announced as a temporary arrangement to house asylum seekers.

As the years went on the Direct Provision System grew and became a permanent feature of the Irish asylum system. Furthermore, direct provision became a lucrative business opportunity for private companies that bid for contracts to run accommodation centres: In 20 years, the State has spent more than €1.3 billion on direct provision, the vast majority going to private companies.

The Irish Times marked the 20th anniversary of the Direct Provision System with a piece titled: “Direct provision: The controversial system turns 20”. If we can call Magdalene Laundries of the past just “controversial” we should have no problem calling direct provision the same; but direct provision is far more than just controversial, like the Magdalene Laundries it is a direct attack on human rights, children’s’ rights, etc.

The Direct Provision System is the main feature of a legally very complex, bureaucratically and politically non-transparent, commercially profit and private business driven, at the core inhumane and institutionally racist asylum system in Ireland. To understand the DPS we need to understand the role it is playing in Ireland’s asylum process. It provides the best cover for Irish governments over the past 20 years not only to continue with their unwelcoming asylum polices, but also to get away with the unforgivable inhumanity of the official state response to asylum seekers.

In fact the entire asylum system is based on single-simple logic: keeping the asylum seekers out. If possible, out of Ireland altogether, but, if that fails, out of sight and out of public and social life, in other words, out of minds. It is designed to ensure the asylum seeker don’t sink roots in this country while the state considers various options about their lives, the least likely being granting them refugee status, because the state knows that people with roots are much harder to deport.

The next FG/FF+ government will be no different than the previous FG or FF lead coalitions. We are facing another deep economic crisis on top of the housing and health crisis of the past 10 years. There is nothing tangible in the discussions for government on direct provision systems. We may see the same promises, lies and sell-outs. The makers of the deep crises will have no shame in using these as an excuse to maintain and grow the direct provision system and accept all inhumanity it inflicts on people as a given.

END DIRECT PROVISION: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Direct Provision System is not just about accomodation. It is about the abuse of social-economic and human rights. But accomodation plays an important role in defining radical change in other areas such as social protection, right-to-work and community life. Direct provision prevents asylum seekers trapped in institutionalized living to move forward and build their lives.

#COVID19 created another serious problem for residents in direct provision. The government must relocate residents to safe accomodation and give everyone the chance to socially distance and protect themselves.

Residents in centres face immediate health and safety issues that need to be addressed.

Testing efforts must be increased rapidly.

We are all talking about solidarity and unity in these difficulty days. It is a perfect moment to declare full residency rights for all asylum seekers in direct provision while sorting out the immediate needs.

In United Against Racism we continue to campaign to end direct provision and support all other similar campaigns. We fully stand behind our brothers and sisters in direct provision. Their demands are our demands. We have been involved in networks of solidarity and practical actions of support.. We have also organised numerous national / local rallies and events to build the momentum for the campaign to end direct provision. None of this enough and we must push for bigger and stronger campaigns in unity. We believe that united-fronts bringing in broad active support from all sections of the society is the key for building up the pressure and strengthening the support behind the asylum seekers on the forefront. Trade unions, political parties, community groups and other progressive forces in our society are important elements in this network of solidarity.

The #COVID19 crisis exposed another horrific side of the direct provision centres. These places and the system itself are not places for people to live.  We will continue to add our voice to other voices and build the pressure to end the Direct Provision System.

Housing and all other crises are caused by the very same political forces that are using these as an excuse not to end direct provision. There are many alternatives to direct provision system but the right-wing government don’t have the political will and the interest in the well being of asylum seekers. Furthermore asylum and refugee policies are inherently racist. We will continue fighting all forms of racism.

#HomesForAll | #EndDirectProvision | #NoDeportations


APPENDIX:

OPTION 1

(PULL FACTOR) Granting entitlement to Social Welfare and Rent Allowance could also be a ‘pull factor’ and the numbers of new asylum seekers could rise significantly.

(COST) Even if the potential ‘pull factor’ is ignored, this ‘welfare supports option’ is likely to more than double the cost of providing for the accommodation needs of asylum seekers.

(POPULATION MANAGEMENT) In addition, it would most likely result in a concentration of asylum seekers in the larger urban areas, particularly in the Dublin area and this would place severe pressure on the education and medical services in these areas.

(PROTECTING THE PRIVATE FOR PROFIT CONTRACTS) There would also arise the cost of buying out some of the contracts that would be terminated before their agreed expiry dates.

OPTION 2

PROTECTING THE PRIVATE FOR PROFIT CONTRACTS: In order to transfer to such a system, the RIA would either need to wait for current direct provision contracts to lapse or to buy-out existing contracts.

(PULL FACTOR) As with the social-welfare based system (Option 1), it is anticipated that most of the persons in the asylum process within and outside of RIA accommodation would seek to avail of the self-catering option

(COST) This option does not offer any significant (cost) advantages over Direct Provision. In a best case scenario, it would cost €18m more than Direct Provision and could exceed current costs by more than €120m.

OPTION 3

The report, again, referres to “pull factor”.

To do this would require significant costs for the build of housing, maintenance costs and administrative/management costs. Due to the turnover of asylum seekers within such a solution, there would also be significant costs in respect of the re-commissioning of housing on a change of tenant. Furthermore there would be a significant increase in pressure placed on existing local authority housing lists by this client group. Local authority housing is itself a long term solution to a long term housing need.

Furthermore there would be a significant increase in pressure placed on existing local authority housing lists by this client group. Local authority housing is itself a long term solution to a long term housing need. In order to fulfil its obligations to house asylum seekers, they would automatically move to the top of a housing list and would have to be immediately accommodated regardless of waiting lists. In that regard, local authority housing is entirely unsuited to the short-term needs of asylum seekers.

In addition, as with all options that offer access to cash payments, this option is likely to become a ‘pull factor’ and would lead to a significant increase in the number of new asylum seekers entering the country.

Asylum seekers would have to be accommodated for lengthy periods in Reception Centres or other Direct Provision units while they awaited an outcome on their application and the availability of a house/apartment;

Asylum seekers are likely to opt for particular locations and it would be difficult to disperse them to areas where large numbers would not put significant pressure on local medical and educational services. There are no current legislative provisions in Ireland that can restrict the movements of asylum seekers to a particular geographical area;

There would be significant transition costs in moving from the current Direct Provision system;

Liaison between INIS and multiple local authorities would be more difficult than with RIA

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