Housing crisis and processing backlogs contributing to bottlenecks in asylum system

The changeover to new asylum procedures and the housing crisis have contributed to significant delays in the length of time it takes asylum applicants to move through the asylum and reception systems.

Asylum seekers are now waiting an average of 18 to 20 months to complete the first interview in the application process, according to an NGO working in the field. This is a steep increase from the average waiting time of 11 weeks in 2015 and 16 weeks in 2016. Staff and resource shortages, in the context of increasing applications, contributed to a backlog of cases developing in 2014-2015. The introduction of a new system under the International Protection Act 2015, in December 2016, should lead to more efficient processing once backlogs are cleared. However, transitioning to the new system also resulted in delays. The longer waiting times come at a time when applications are increasing, with Syrian nationals being the biggest single group of applicants in 2017.

The housing crisis has also caused bottlenecks in the accommodation system for asylum applicants. Refugees and others granted permission to remain in Ireland may not be in a position to leave centres if they can’t find alternative accommodation. Improvements made to Direct Provision centres, for example the introduction of self-catering units, have reduced bed capacity in some centres. The system is operating at almost full capacity and authorities have struggled to procure additional accommodation centres to house asylum applicants.

“In many respects the Irish response to the 2015/2016 EU migrant and refugee ‘crisis’ was encouraging, in particular the establishment of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme and increased engagement by government ministers in the issue. However, our report finds significant underlying bottlenecks, which mean that the system currently faces challenges in processing protection applications in a timely manner” said Emma Quinn, report author. “The report highlights that preparing for future arrivals requires sustained planning and infrastructure.”

Ireland received an increased number of applications for international protection during recent years. In 2014 there were 1,448 applications. This more than doubled to 3,276 in 2015. In 2016, there were 2,244 applications and in 2017, there were 2,926 applications. The majority of applicants in 2017 were from Syria, followed by Georgia, Albania, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

Under the ‘burden-sharing’ EU relocation programme, 1,022 people arrived to Ireland from Greece, between January 2016 and March 2018. This figure includes 14 unaccompanied minors and separated children from Syria. By February 2018, 36 unaccompanied minors had arrived in Ireland from Calais under the Calais Special Project.