FAQs about asylum

What does international protection mean?  What is the difference between a ‘refugee’ and an ‘asylum seeker’?  How do asylum seekers live in Ireland?  Can asylum seekers work?

Here at the IRC, we come across questions like these every day. Sadly, we also come across myths and misinformation about people in the asylum process and how they live in Ireland.  A crucial part of what we do is raise public understanding about refugee issues and show why Ireland should be proud of it tradition of offering safety to people in need of international protection.

Who is a refugee?

In plain English, a refugee is anyone who leaves their country because they fear they are in danger of persecution for one of the following five reasons:

  1. Race – including ethnicity
  2. Religion – in some countries having no religion is viewed as badly as being the ‘wrong’ religion
  3. Nationality
  4. Membership of a particular social group – this can include things like membership of a trade union, your gender (i.e. male or female), your sexual orientation, your age (i.e. if children are in danger of persecution)
  5. Political opinion – this is not only if you are a member of a political party, but if you have any political opinions, or even if people think you do.

Who is eligible for subsidiary protection?

A third country national who is not a refugee but if returned to his/her country of origin faces a real risk of suffering serious harm consisting of the death penalty or execution or torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of the person in their country of origin or a serious and individual threat to a civilian’s life or person by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict.

Who is an asylum seeker?

Asylum seekers are people seeking to be recognised as refugees, who are waiting for the authorities to decide on their applications. People in this process are legally entitled to stay in the state until their application for protection is decided. They also have a right to a fair hearing of that application and to an appeal if necessary.

Where do refugees come from?Who is a refugee

Refugees come from many places across the world. Sometimes the persecution they flee is well known and recognised, for example the war in Syria. For others, their plight is not so widely known, or the persecution they face is more personal – e.g. because of your sexuality or gender. There is often a misunderstanding that refugees are only born of war and conflict. The reality is there are many reasons why a person may become a refugee.

How do asylum seekers live in Ireland?

While a person’s application is being processed, they are accommodated by the government’s Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) in Direct Provision centres around the country.  These centres are a communal style of accommodation, where families are often housed in one room, and single people usually share a room with other single adults, quite often up to four people in one room.  Shower and toilet facilities are often shared. Meals are cooked for the residents, and served at a set time each day in a canteen.

Do asylum seekers get social welfare?

While in this process people are not entitled to usual social welfare payments, although they may apply for an exceptional needs payment from the local Community Welfare Officer. People receive a weekly allowance of €29.80 for children and €38.80 for adults.  This must cover any additional  expenses a person may have. People in this system also receive a medical card.

Can people in the asylum process work?

In July 2018 Ireland transposed the European Union which states how people seeking protection should be treated while they wait for their application to be decided. One of the changes made as a result of this law was that people who have waited for more than nine months for their application for protection to be decided can apply for permission to work.

To see how other EU member states apply the right to work visit the Asylum and Information Database.

Can children who are asylum seekers or refugees go to school?

All children that have been given refugee status are entitled to the same rights as Irish children including the same access to education.

Children that are waiting for a decision on their asylum application can attend primary and secondary school, but they are not entitled to free fees for college and must pay non-EU fees which they usually cannot afford.  Remember, asylum seekers receive only €29.80 for children and €38.80 for adults. This must cover any additional expenses a person may have. It would take a long time to save enough for college fees.

How long do people wait in this system?

A person who claims asylum today, whose case is not prioritised, will likely wait 19 months for their first substantive interview.

Under the old legislation people were spending an average of three – four years in the system.