Directive 2013/33/EU lays down standards for the reception of international protection applicants. Article 21 of the Directive requires Member States, in implementing the Directive, to take into account the specific situation of vulnerable persons, and Article 22 provides for the assessment of the special needs of vulnerable persons.
Vulnerable persons include minors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents, victims of human trafficking, persons with serious illnesses, persons with mental disorders and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, such as victims of female genital mutilation.
The Directive was implemented through the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018 which provide for an assessment in relation to special reception needs within 30 days of presentation or application. Once assessed as having special reception needs, there are a number of ways in which those needs are addressed. Tusla, for example, provides the required supports to meet the needs of unaccompanied minors once identified as such.
An initial interview is conducted with all applicants when they first attend the International Protection Office in Dublin. If the applicant indicates at that point that he or she requires accommodation, he or she will then be assessed for any specific reception needs. This assessment is taken into account when assigning accommodation to the particular individual.
As detailed in the Regulations, the Minister for Health and the HSE have lead responsibility in relation to health assessments. Applicants are invited for an initial health assessment on a voluntary basis.
There is a specific Health Screening Team funded and managed by the HSE located on the site of the Balseskin Reception facility for the purpose of assessing those who have just arrived in the State. The team comprises of GPs, a Medical Officer, a Clinical Nurse Specialist and two nurses, a primary care social worker, two primary care psychologists and clerical/administration support. This team offers a range of individual services and screening for medical and psychosocial needs with onward referral as necessary. The individual professionals communicate with RIA (within the bounds of patient confidentiality) if a particular need is identified that will affect the person’s accommodation requirements. A new primary care facility will also open at Balseskin in the coming weeks, which will enable the health care team to provide services in a facility that is to the standard of all HSE primary care facilities.
In addition, arrangements are in place with Safetynet, who carry out health screening in various parts of the country on behalf of the HSE, to offer this screening service to those who do not, for whatever reason, avail of it in Dublin. Safetynet staff liaise with RIA if the person is deemed vulnerable on medical or related grounds. This can include a request that particular steps be taken as regards that person’s accommodation.
There is on-going liaison between RIA and the HSE in relation to how best to meet the health and related needs of protection applicants. The HSE National Office for Social Inclusion has commissioned research to explore the concept of vulnerability with a view to further improving on the processes which are already in place.
It is important to emphasise that all sectors within the Direct Protection system share a role in identifying and supporting applicants who present as vulnerable. This is particularly the case where vulnerabilities may become evident beyond the initial stage of the protection process.
The Department continues to work hard to improve how we deliver services to people who claim international protection and seek our assistance, and to meet the requirements of the 2018 regulations, despite significant pressures.