Joint release: Support groups seek independent complaints mechanism for direct provision

23 June 2010

A number of non-governmental organisations working in the area of asylum and refugee rights today called for the introduction of an independent complaints mechanism for people living in the direct provision system.

The coalition of organisations were gathering in Leinster House to brief TDs and Senators around the current lack of a separate complaints system for direct provision residents. Currently, the duty of care for people who are seeking asylum, leave to remain or subsidiary protection in Ireland lies with the Department of Justice and Law Reform, which accommodates them in direct provision centres dispersed around the country. Thus, the same department that is responsible for dealing with any complaints made by direct provision residents about their accommodation also decides on their applications for asylum or protection in this country.

The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), the Departmental unit assigned to provide accommodation and ancillary services to applicants, has contractual agreements with private contractors who manage the accommodation centres. RIA insists that the current complaints system is adequate in dealing with grievances. However, Nasc CEO Fiona Finn refuted this, saying "it is not satisfactory that RIA is the final adjudicator on complaints regarding the scheme when, in essence, it is the operator of that scheme. It cannot be an objective judge in these matters."

RIA issued new House Rules for residents in May 2010 and is in the process of distributing these to all residents in the direct provision system. A review of the House Rules took place between September 2007 and May 2008, but concerns raised by NGOs participating in the review were not taken into account. "As part of the NGO lobby on the house rules review committee, we called for an independent monitoring mechanism to be put in place. This suggestion was not taken on board and unfortunately very few substantial changes were made to the revised house rules document," stated Triona Nic Giolla Choille, Director of Galway Refugee Support Group.

Currently the final determination of RIA on any complaint is final with no recourse to an objective and independent arbitration. This has resulted in some people being evicted from the direct provision system and left destitute without any access to financial assistance or emergency housing. One of these evictions led to legal proceedings in the High Court in October 2008, where an Afghan man suffering from a mental illness was forced to sleep rough for a number of months before the case was settled out of court and he was readmitted to direct provision accommodation.

Both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Irish constitution contain a right to fair procedures. According to Noeline Blackwell, Director General of FLAC, "The complaints system as it currently operates lacks transparency and fairness. The same Department which will make a final decision on a person's claim for protection not only accommodates the applicant but also adjudicates on any grievance he or she may have with the centre manager. Without an independent right of appeal, this right cannot be vindicated under the current system."

The organisations point out that the Office of the Ombudsman has issued a guide to assist public bodies to "establish an efficient and credible internal complaints handling system." If used in the direct provision context, these guidelines would encourage faith in the system, as residents often do not feel comfortable complaining to the same people who are responsible for providing the service in the first place. Such guidelines would help to ensure that complaints are dealt with in an efficient, effective and fair way.


Notes for Editors

  1. The coalition of organisations lobbying on direct provision issues is made up of: Akina Dada wa Africa (AkiDwA), Amnesty International Ireland, Barnardos, The Irish Refugee Council, Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), Galway Refugee Support Group (GRSG), Nasc - The Irish Immigrant Support Centre, Asylum Seeker & Refugee Counselling & Support Service of SPIRASI, Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference Refugee & Migrant Project.
  2. For further information on the direct provision and dispersal system see the report issued by AkiDwA entitled 'Am Only Saying It Now': Experiences of Women Seeking Asylum in Ireland and FLAC's report One Size Doesn't Fit All: A legal analysis of the direct provision and dispersal system in Ireland, 10 years on.
  3. The Reception and Integration Agency's (RIA) revised House Rules and Procedures document is available in two parts - Part 1 and Part 2.