Rule change should lead to less time in Direct Provision centres for asylum seekers

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The new streamlined process for asylum applications in Ireland will accept its first applications from today, but an advocacy group is warning that current large backlogs in the system will mean that the benefits of this new system may be not be felt immediately.

The International Protection Act 2015 has introduced a “single procedure” which allows for applications for refugee status and subsidiary protection to be considered in one application.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has welcomed the new system, saying that it should “dramatically cut the length of time asylum-seekers spend in Direct Provision centres”.

With the numbers of people waiting on asylum decisions in Ireland remaining high, however, the UNHCR says the backlog that the new system will start with may take a considerable time to clear.

The “single procedure” system will replace what the UNHCR calls a “multi-layered process” that can lead to long times spent in Direct Provision centres.

Under the previous system, an application for asylum was made to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC). A negative determination could then be appealed to a separate body, called the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

If that appeal was rejected, a separate submission for subsidiary protection status would need to have been made to ORAC to remain in the country.

Enda O’Neill, head of office at UNHCR Ireland, said: “The new procedure should speed up decision making and reduce the amount of time asylum-seekers spend in Direct Provision centres.

“Focus on Direct Provision should not relate solely to accommodation and living arrangements of asylum-seekers but to the determination process that means they spend long periods of time waiting for decisions on their applications.

Upon the publication of the McMahon report last year, it was said that there were over 3,500 asylum seekers who had been living in Direct Provision for over five years in Ireland.

The report also revealed that the average waiting time for an asylum application was 70 weeks.

According to figures from the Department of Justice, there were 4,740 asylum-seekers waiting for a decision on their application at the end of 2015.

UNHCR has said that it is disappointed that there there has been so significant reduction on this in 2016.

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