The Direct Provision system, which system is managed by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department, is constantly evolving to take account the number of asylum seekers entering or leaving the system and, generally, to meet the aim of improving and maintaining standards. This Government came to office on 9 March, 2011. From then to today, the number of asylum seekers residing in direct provision asylum accommodation centres has declined from 5,975 to 4,299 i.e. a reduction of 28%. Further, the yearly cost of the system has declined from E79.073 million in 2010 to E55.29 million in 2013- a reduction of 30%.
In relation to inspection regimes, RIA has always had, and continues to have, three unannounced inspections of its centres every year - two by internal RIA staff and one by an external inspection company. To ensure transparency in the system, the inspection regime changed last year. Inspection forms were re-designed to ensure greater detail to the process, RIA staff were re-trained and all completed reports in respect of inspections which took place from 1 October, 2013, began to be published on RIA's website - www.ria.gov.ie. The website itself was improved and re-launched in 2011.
It is not just the inspections process that ensures the maintenance of standards. RIA engages with service providers to ensure that, from a contractual perspective, standards are improved. For example, a majority of families living in the system have sole access to their own bathroom and toilet facilities. Whilst the nature of Direct Provision is such that en suite facilities are not guaranteed, RIA continues to seek over time to increase the percentage of families having access to non-shared bathroom/toilet facilities. A number of centres are currently engaged in refurbishment work to ensure that families have sole access to such facilities.
Of the 34 centres currently in the RIA portfolio, 7 are State owned i.e. the land and buildings are owned by the State. With the cooperation of RIA, the OPW began in 2013 a major refurbishment process in relation to six of these 7 centres. Work on the two 'system built' centres in Knockalisheen, Co. Clare and Kinsale Road, Cork is continuing on a rolling 'block by block' basis and is expected to be completed this year. In relation to the remaining four centres in Kerry, work in Atlas House Tralee is finished and work is ongoing in Johnson Marina, Tralee. Work on Park Lodge, Killarney and Atlas House Killarney will commence later this year. The seventh State owned centre, the mobile home campus in Athlone, whilst not undergoing the same level of refurbishment as the other six centres, is nonetheless undergoing significant ongoing maintenance work.
In relation to information provision generally, this has improved too. The Asylum & Immigration Strategic Integration Programme (AISIP), the first ever project to address immigration related issues and transactions by taking a "whole of system" approach from the perspective of the client, went live in October 2011. AISIP has allowed RIA provide more a more detailed breakdown in its Annual Reports, beginning in 2012, in relation to family profiles in each of the centres. The Annual Reports now include full details of facilities available to children in each of the centres. RIA also developed a new internal contracts payments database in 2013 to make payment processing and reporting easier. RIA has also been engaged in a revision of its comprehensive Child Protection Policy the aim of which is to make it more user friendly. The final draft document is with the Child and Family Agency for observations and once these are received the policy will be published on the RIA website and a training process will begin.
Finally, in the next few weeks it is expected that a Sexual harassment and Domestic Violence policy will be agreed between RIA and NGO's such as AkidWa and Ruhama and the UNHCR. This policy will be implemented early in 2014. A training programme for staff and residents will follow from agreement on this policy. Already, in advance of this, the working group has approved an information poster which has already been distributed to all RIA centres. These posters - available in five languages including English - provide information on accessing professional help if residents have suffered or are suffering from domestic, sexual or gender based violence or harassment.