Responding to the Migrant Crisis

Forced migrants attempting a dangerous sea crossing on unsuitable vessel. Writing for the Irish Catholic, JRS Ireland National Director Eugene Quinn highlights how a long term integration challenge awaits the newly elected Government in March 2016.

Ireland has long cherished itself as the ‘land of the thousand welcomes’. Yet the arrival of thousands of asylum seekers, refugees and forced migrant tests that principle in practice. In 2015 more than 3,000 people sought asylum in Ireland coming from more than 20 countries.


Nearly 5,000 people, a quarter of them children, live in direct provision centres throughout the country. People seeking asylum have no right to work and limited access to education. A weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child is payable to asylum seekers in Direct Provision.

In the experience of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Ireland delivering support to individuals and families in 13 centres, the biggest issue is length of time in the system. The most negative aspects of life in direct provision are functions of duration and exacerbated by the length of time in the system, including adverse effects on children, family life and relationships, the obsolescence of skills and the creation of dependency.


Last June 2015 a Government appointed working group, of which JRS Ireland was a Member, published a report recommending improvements to the asylum process and to conditions and supports to enable people in Direct Provision live with greater dignity. All recommendations were fully costed and agreed by consensus. Since publication progress on implementation of key recommendations has been slow.

  • Although the principle that people should be no more than five years in the system has been accepted, progress in dealing with ‘long stayers’ needs to be accelerated by providing additional resources detailed in the working group report.
  • Backlogs are growing significantly in case processing at earlier durations. The new Single Application Procedure must be resourced adequately to enable decisions be processed speedily or the unacceptable delays that characterise the existing system will continue.
  • The weekly allowance for adults of €19.10 has not been increased since 2000. The recent increase of children’s payment by €6 was a quarter of the Working Group’s recommendation. Direct provision allowances should be increased as recommended enabling families live with greater dignity.
  • Recommendations improving living conditions in direct provision, in particular, those relating to communal kitchens and additional living space, remain unimplemented.

More than a million refugees and migrants put their lives at risk to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and over 3,700 people did not survive the journey. We cannot and should not be comfortable with this reality. Ireland committed to accepting up to 4,000 persons under relocation (2,900 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy) and resettlement (1,100 Syrian refugees from Lebanon). Are we doing enough?

  • With so many forced migrants crossing the sea seeking protection, journeys echoing those who fled these shores on famine ships, Ireland can and should be more generous.
  • Will the 2,900 relocated persons be accommodated differently from those in Direct Provision leading to a two-tier system of accommodation for persons seeking protection in Ireland?
  • Will extra resources be allocated for case processing of asylum seekers relocated from Italy and Greece? If not, will existing applicants wait even longer for decisions?


There has been an unprecedented outpouring of public support for refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe, especially those fleeing Syria. Thousands of Irish people have pledged accommodation, time and skills to welcome refugees to be resettled in Ireland.

The long-term integration challenge for a new Government is to build on this goodwill and create the conditions where all residents, local and migrant, can fully participate in Irish society irrespective of their colour, creed or status. Then Ireland can truly proclaim itself a country of the thousand welcomes.