Written Answers. - Asylum Applications.

Paul McGrath

Question:

301 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of backlog asylum applicants within the categories of six months to one year and one year or longer; the number of asylum-seekers in each group receiving direct provision; the total cost of providing direct provision and social welfare benefits for each group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3834/03]

The information requested by the Deputy is as follows:

In asylum process for 6-12 months

In asylum process for over 12 months

Applications – Decisions Pending (Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner)

503*

222*

Appeals Outstanding (Refugee Appeals Tribunal)

490**

239**

*The bulk of the cases outstanding in the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner are currently incapable of being processed, in many cases due to long-term certified medical illness.
**More than 95% of outstanding cases in the office of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal are at an advanced stage of processing.
The statistics requested in respect of direct provision are as follows:

Numbers in Direct Provision*

991

1,020

*This figure includes persons who have been processed fully through the asylum process.
The average cost of maintaining an asylum seeker in the direct provision system, including accommodation, cost of utilities and ancillary services, is approximately €25 a day. The total cost, therefore, of direct provision for those applicants in the system for 6-12 months is €24,775 per day and the total for those in the system for more than 12 months is €25,500 per day.
The payment of social welfare benefits is a matter for the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.

Paul McGrath

Question:

302 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether asylum-seekers whose cases have not been adjudicated within one year should be allowed to take up gainful employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3835/03]

It is not proposed to allow asylum applicants to take up paid employment pending a final decision being made on their applications.

There are a number of key reasons I believe that the present policy on access to work by asylum seekers should not be changed.

Section 9(4)(b) of the Refugee Act, 1996, as amended, provides, inter alia, that an applicant for asylum shall not seek or enter employment. It must also be borne in mind that under the 1996 Act asylum seekers only have temporary permission to remain in the State pending the determination of their applications. However, we must face the fact that, despite its humanitarian purpose, large numbers of persons are seeking protection under the 1996 Act, which gives effect to the State's obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention, for the purpose of avoiding legitimate immigration controls in order to gain a foothold in the State for economic reasons. Similar trends are being experienced by other EU states.

I am convinced that any extension of the right to work arrangement would greatly undermine the Government's asylum strategy which is aimed at greatly increasing processing capacity to deliver more speedy decisions in applications for refugee status with a view to ensuring that new applications are dealt with within six months, and increasing the numbers of repatriations which are arising in respect of persons who do not qualify for refugee status.
The current statistics clearly indicate that significant progress continues to be made in the processing of asylum applications and that the increase in processing capacity which has been put in place as part of the Government's asylum strategy is making a real impact on the backlog of cases on hands. This is evidenced by the fact that the number of backlog cases, that is, cases which are more than six months old, on hands in the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal is now down to approximately 1,450 from a figure of 6,500 approximately at the end of September 2001, the vast majority of which are in the final stages of processing. The ORAC is currently scheduling asylum applicants who applied in January 2003 for interview.
Extending the right to work would have a very negative impact on asylum numbers as was experienced in the aftermath of the July 1999 decision to do so. The immediate effect of that measure was a threefold increase in the average number of applications per month leading to a figure of 1,217 applications in December, 1999, compared with an average of 364 per month for the period January to July 1999. This represented the highest ever number of applications received in the State in any month to date.
Any significant increase in applications would also have a significant negative impact on our capacity to accommodate asylum applicants while they are awaiting a determination of their claims. As things stand at the moment, the ongoing provision of services to meet the reception, health and welfare and accommodation needs of asylum seekers is an enormous challenge for all the State agencies who work in this area. The total cost to the Exchequer of the provision of services to asylum seekers was €300 million approximately in 2002.
Any proposal to grant asylum seekers access to the labour market at the present time would also undermine the current and effective work permit system which provides a comprehensive channel for legal migration to the State. Some 40,000 work permits were issued by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in 2002 as compared to 36,000 in 2001 and 18,000 in 2000.
It is a well established fact that those engaged in trafficking and those seeking to access the labour market without going through the appropriate legal channels are very quick to identify any perceived attractiveness of a country as a preferred or easily accessed destination. It is clear from the profile of applicants, and the results of the determination process, that a significant number of people have come and sought asylum in Ireland with a view to seeking work. Many people are already working illegally. It is my very strong belief that any extension of the right to work to all applicants would be portrayed abroad by people traffickers to potential victims as a cast iron guarantee of a right to work.
The greatest service we can provide to those who should be recognised as refugees is to ensure that their claims are decided speedily and that nothing is done which undermines this policy priority by attracting large numbers of non-genuine applicants to the detriment of genuine applicants. Overloading the process with large numbers of new applicants who come here under the misguided expectation that they will be able to work would be totally contrary to the State's obligations under the Geneva Convention and could completely negate the major investment in effort, time and resources which has gone into bringing our overall strategy to its current status.
A recently adopted EU directive laying down minimum standards for reception of asylum seekers in member states provides that if a decision at first instance has not been taken within one year of the presentation of an application for asylum and this delay cannot be attributed to the applicant, member states shall decide the conditions for granting access to the labour market for the applicant. The position of the State in relation to this directive was set out in reply to Parliamentary Question No. 131 of 6 February 2003.