The Right to Seek Asylum- EAPN Ireland Poverty Watch 2022 Extract
“You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”– Home by Warsan Shire.
For the past decade, one the most urgent issues we have seen in Europe is migration and the movement of people fleeing persecution from their countries of origin. This issue has grown rapidly in 2022, due to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February of this year. As of August 2022, it is estimated that over 6 million Ukrainian people have sought refuge across Europe, with 35,670 Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSNs) issued in Ireland to individuals from Ukraine under the Temporary Protection Directive. The activation within the EU, for the first time since its introduction in 2001, of the Temporary Protection Directive, which addresses the mass arrival of people seeking international protection, is welcome. European countries have rightfully provided much needed emergency assistance to people from Ukraine, predominantly women, children, and older people.
In recent years, prior to the war in Ukraine, we have seen a rise in populism and a questioning of the EU Treaty values (Article two) of human dignity, human rights, justice, solidarity and equality. This has manifested in a defensive and inhumane response from the EU towards migrants and those seeking international protection. Since 2011 the EU has consistently supported and developed policies designed to galvanise and strengthen the idea of “Fortress Europe”, with policies within EU countries now being adopted that support the implementation of hard physical borders and returning people to their country of origin as a first resort. EU countries have also rolled back rights relating to family reunification, and there has been increasing difficulty obtaining refugee as opposed to temporary status.
We have seen the outsourcing of responsibilities in relation to asylum seekers and migrants by the EU, via deals with countries such as Turkey and Libya, (over 82 000 refugees and migrants seeking to reach the EU have been returned to Libya since 2017, with conditions for refugees and migrants in Libyan camps described as ‘hellish’). This raises serious concerns regarding human trafficking and human rights abuses, as well as the tearing up the tenets of the “Dublin Convention”, originally sought to ensure equitable and common standards across the EU for asylum applications. The avenues of safe passage for people seeking to reach Europe have all but disappeared. From January to September 2021, it was estimated that 1,369 people drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. It is estimated that between 2014 and 2018 around 12,000 people drowned trying to reach Europe who were never found. It is worth emphasising that there is a fundamental right to seek asylum, as per article 18 of EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and criteria set out in the 1951 Refugee (Geneva) Convention.
In Ireland we initially provided a prompt and hospitable response to people travelling from Ukraine seeking safety and shelter on our shores, involving numerous Government Departments, statutory agencies, Community and Voluntary sector organisations, as well as a strong sense of volunteerism throughout the country. However, it must also provide us with a sense of introspection and learning around how we treat all migrants and refugees who come to Ireland. Ireland has a stark and historic relationship relating to the institutionalisation of marginalised groups in society, in the past we focused on women, children, people with disabilities, and people with mental health issues. Direct Provision now represents the acceptable face of institutional living in present-day Ireland.
Direct Provision as a system has faced growing backlash over the past number of years, with critics highlighting the excessive waits in the processing of asylum applications, the previous inability to engage with employment, subsistence payments weekly of €38.80 per adult and €29.80 per child, and inappropriate living conditions. In response to this, in 2021 the Irish Government published a White Paper outlining the process to end direct provision, introducing a human rights approach, community-based accommodation, and not-for-profit provision, with the current system ending by 2024. Due to the increase in numbers seeking international protection in Ireland the timeline for ending Direct Provision by 2024 will not be met. This brings up a serious issue in terms of our ability to address poverty and inequality and the growing conflict between the intentions and objectives behind progressive policy development and the capacity to execute these policies if social structures are unavailable or under-resourced. An example of this is the growing accommodation crisis for Ukrainian people and others seeking refuge in Ireland, a crisis that is part of the wider housing issues we continue to face nationally. It further emphasises that a failing in Government policy, as we have seen within the Irish housing system over the past decade, becomes the greatest burden for those in society who are most in need.
Ireland can show itself to be a leader within the EU, applying a human rights approach to how we address migration and the needs of all those seeking international protection from all parts of the world. However, it must be backed up by investment in and the delivery of adequate and accessible social supports and structures that seek to meet the needs of all those in society. Ireland has a strong history of emigration which intersects with our present day. As a consequence of “The Great Famine”, it is estimated that between 1851 and 1860, 81% of immigrants to the United States of America were Irish. The role that refugees and migrants can play in Ireland, the skills, social and economic capital they can bring, can only enhance and benefit our society, in the same way the Irish diaspora have made their mark and found their home throughout the years on a global scale.
By Irene Byrne Policy and Communications Officer EAPN Ireland
This is an extract from the EAPN Ireland Poverty Watch 2022. The full publication can be read here.