On 28 November 2023, the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth published a report on Refugees and Integration. The report which outlines various recommendations was part of the Committee’s recent work on reviewing issues relating to refugees and integration, such as the timely processing of applications for international protection, accommodation of applicants, combatting misinformation and disinformation, challenges facing refugee and migrant children in Ireland and ending Direct Provision.
Processing applications for international protection and ending Direct Provision
The report notes previous ESRI research on key reasons for the marked increase of international protection applications in Ireland during 2022, which include increased mobility following lifting of Covid-19 travel restrictions, the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, conflict and conditions in countries of origin as well as other factors.
Several issues were raised such as staffing levels at the International Protection Office, processing times for applications and the challenges following the introduction of an accelerated process for applications from ‘safe countries’ in November 2022. Other challenges for applicants were also raised, including the lack of accessibility tools for official documents for those who experience language barriers.
Following on from the publication of the White Paper to end Direct Provision, the Committee’s report echoes the recommendation to reduce the processing times for international protection applications and therefore reduce time spent living in the Direct Provision system. It also calls for the revision of the timelines for ending Direct Provision and to work towards the completion of the actions outlined in the White Paper.
Adequate and timely accommodation of international protection applicants and refugees
The issues presented under this theme included the long-term planning of accommodation, delays to rapid build accommodation, the use of ships and tented accommodation and the reliance on the private sector for the provision of accommodation. The report also notes concerns regarding standards, safeguarding and inspections of accommodation, and communication and information provision strategies for both those being accommodated, and the local communities where applicants are accommodated.
Combatting the rise of misinformation and disinformation
A key issue presented under this theme was the use of traditional media and social media as vehicles for misinformed and hateful narratives. The role of social media companies in targeting these narratives was also discussed in the report.
Challenges facing refugee and migrant children
The safety and wellbeing of refugee and migrant children was a focus of the report under this theme, particularly the recently published Special Report by the Ombudsman for Childrens Office. The lack of provisions relating to unaccompanied minors in the General Scheme of a Child Care (Amendment Bill) 2023 was also included.
In relation to age disputed minors, the Committee noted the concerns of some stakeholders regarding the placement of age disputed minors in adult accommodation centres.
The report includes 96 recommendations developed following the consultations undertaken prior to the publication of the report. The recommendations cover the core areas reviewed as part of the Committee’s work. The recommendations also build on positive practices identified such as making the regularization scheme for undocumented people permanent.