Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
419. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the steps that have been taken at EU level to protect migrants and asylum seekers from an outbreak of Covid-19, including those living in overcrowded reception centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6264/20]
As the Deputy will appreciate, it is the responsibility of each individual Member State of the EU to address the challenges in their own state regarding the impacts of Covid-19 on persons resident in their state, including applicants for International Protection and other migrants.
In order to support Member States and to help protect migrants and asylum seekers during the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission has prepared a formal guidance document called ‘Guidance on the implementation of relevant EU provisions in the area of asylum and return procedures and on resettlement” with the support of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). This was formally adopted by Member States on 16 April 2020 and it illustrates how to ensure continuity of procedures as much as possible while fully ensuring the protection of people’s health, given the healthcare measures introduced by Member States.
The Commission advices are that in order to prevent and contain the spread of Covid-19, public health measures such as medical screening, social distancing, quarantine and isolation should be applied as necessary for third-country nationals, including applicants for international protection, resettled persons or third-country nationals illegally staying in the Union provided that these measures are reasonable, proportionate and non-discriminatory.
In line with the EU Commission guidance I can assure the Deputy that my Department continues to follow HSE and Public Health guidelines in relation to measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 within our Direct Provision accommodation system and our international protection system generally. We will continue to follow the Commission’s guidance as regards asylum measures in the context of the pandemic as appropriate to Ireland. For example, Ireland continues to accept new asylum applications as normal as per the EU advices.
As regards our Direct Provision system, together with the HSE, we have put in place a range of measures in all of the Department’s Accommodation Centres to address any cases of Covid-19 if or when they arise. This includes provision for self-isolation facilities in Centres and a number of offsite self-isolation centres around the State. In all matters related to the Covid-19 pandemic, we work collaboratively with the HSE to implement their public health advice.
We are carefully following the guidelines for our centres that have been published by the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre. These are publicly available at: .
That guidance exists precisely because it is recognised that congregated settings such as Direct Provision centres present specific challenges in this pandemic.
In partnership with the HSE and Safetynet, my Department has put in place a national clinical telephone service to provide public health advice to support centre staff. It is also being used to advise, support and work with locations where vulnerable groups are present relating to the implementation of COVID-19 guidelines and measures.
The established procedure across all centres where a person is suspected of having the virus or is confirmed as having the virus, is that, where advised by Public Health, they are moved to a dedicated offsite self-isolation facility. Supports are available for the duration of their period of isolation until such time as the HSE considers that they can safely return to their centre. We have opened four dedicated self-isolation facilities (with capacity for 299 people) in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Dundalk. Residents in these facilities have their own bedroom and their own bathroom.
Since the start of the year over 1,550 permanent and temporary Direct Provision bed spaces have been procured, including the dedicated new centres opened in Rosslare Harbour, Caherciveen and Tullamore.
We have relocated over 600 residents to support social and physical distancing in centres and cocooning measures for the most vulnerable. By doing this, we have ensured that no more than three single people are sharing a room in any centre. We intend to continue this policy when the crisis is over.
The vast majority of the rooms in the new accommodation being used to support social and physical distancing are twin rooms accommodating two people. If any person is being accommodated in these locations based on an identified vulnerability (age or medical condition), they have their own bedroom and their own bathroom to facilitate their cocooning.
We have cocooned all residents over the age of 65 and anyone advised to the Department as having a serious medical illness.
In addition to the formal guidance provided by the EU Commission, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), will continue to assess how the Covid-19 pandemic affects asylum services within Member States. The EASO will provide support and advice as necessary to all Member States (including Ireland) including the ongoing provision of training and professional development through their Training and Professional Development Centre.
The European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018 transposed the EU Reception Conditions Directive into Irish law. Under the whole-of-Government approach, a number of Government Departments and agencies work closely together to ensure the necessary supports and services are provided to our residents. You can be assured, in these unprecedented times, that my Department will, in conjunction with all other responsible Departments and Agencies, continue to provide such services to the best of our abilities in line with the provisions of the Directive.