Tuesday, 23 January 2018
Reception Conditions Directive: Motion
It was Tony Benn who said that the way a government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows how it would treat the rest of us if it thought it could get away with it. That is true, but it is a horrifying thought to think that the rest of us would be put in what, for those living in them, are open air prison camps where people have very little autonomy and very little control over their lives. People in such places have, until now, had no right to access work. They are struggling to get by on just over €20 a week. These people are prey to mental health problems, and the potential for exploitation exists. It is an inhumane and barbaric system, and it is a stain on our society.
I recently had a parliamentary question answered by the Minister which illustrated the power imbalance. It related to a case in Limerick, and the fact that the centre that a person happens to stay in can simply tell a refugee that he or she is not staying there and is not using his or her bed. One can dispute that but will have no access to an independent appeals process where his or her side of the story can be set out. All of the power, unfortunately, lies with those who are not the asylum seekers.
I welcome that we are signing up to this directive, but we should have signed up to it a very long time ago. The reality is that the Government has been dragged, kicking and screaming, to do this. The only reason it is doing this is that it is being forced by the Supreme Court to do it, and even then it is acting belatedly and in the most limited fashion possible. The Minister knew about this. He had notice about this since May. Instead of acting then he has waited until now, when we are a couple of weeks away from the February deadline.
The interim solution is extremely poor. Refugees are not allowed access to some 60 occupations and have to have a job that pays more than €30,000. This will simply exclude a very big majority of asylum seekers. In response, the Minister and the Government have said that it is a temporary measure and that they are working on something else. The "something else" is still quite vague, as previous Deputies have referred to, and how limited it will be remains to be seen. The key point is that direct provision was originally supposed to be a short-term solution, and this stain on our society, this barbaric system, still exists today. People have to be given the right to access work fully. Their rights to asylum and to stay in this country should be respected.