Asylum-seeker exclusion is mean-minded

10 December 2009

The Government's proposal to amend the Social Welfare Act to exclude all asylum-seekers from qualifying for social welfare benefits is mean-minded, petty and divisive, said FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) last night.

The Government proposal would mean that no-one who had not been given a right to reside in the State could qualify for payments like Child Benefit, State Pensions and Carers Benefit. This would exclude people who had already spent years awaiting an asylum decision. FLAC said this was using a sledgehammer to crack a small and particularly vulnerable nut. There are already provisions under the Habitual Residence Condition to prevent so-called 'welfare tourism' and stop people getting benefits unless they have been here for some time and have established links here, said the legal rights organisation.

This measure will just penalise children, persons of pension age and people caring for sick children, according to FLAC Senior Solicitor Michael Farrell. "It will cause divisions in schools where asylum-seekers' children who may have been here for a number of years will not be able to take part in school trips and will be marked out as different. It will set back efforts at integration."

FLAC said the Government proposal followed a series of successful appeals taken by FLAC on behalf of asylum-seekers who had all spent years awaiting decisions on their asylum applications. In a total of nine such cases, the Chief Social Welfare Appeals Officer had rejected claims by the Department of Social and Family Affairs that no-one in the asylum process could qualify for benefits.

The decision showed a cavalier attitude to the system the Government had established to hear social welfare appeals, said Michael Farrell.

"When those tribunals showed genuine independence and made decisions the Government did not like, the Minister's reaction was to change the law, not to listen to the valid points the Appeals Office was making. This would not give people much confidence in a system that was supposed to vindicate their rights," he added.

FLAC called on the Government to drop this Scrooge-like proposal and, if they will not do so, it called on the Opposition and Independent TDs and Senators to vote against this measure. "It says a lot about the Government's attitude to human rights that it is making this divisive proposal on International Human Rights Day," said Michael Farrell.


Editors' notes:

  1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights organisation dedicated to the realisation of equal access to justice for all. It campaigns through advocacy, strategic litigation and authoritative analysis to contribute to the eradication of social and economic exclusion.
  2. You can download FLAC's briefing paper on the Habitual Residence Condition and an updated brief from December 2009 (both in Word format).
  3. This updated briefing document has been circulated to Opposition and Government spokespersons.
  4. Read the statement by Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin TD in the Dail, 10 December 2009.
  5. You can read more about FLAC's campaigns online.