2018 saw a landmark change in Ireland’s treatment of people seeking asylum through the recognition of a constitutional right to access the labour market. The case of NHV v. Minister for Justice and Equality was decided in May 2017 and prompted the Government to opt-in to the Reception Conditions Directive which provides for effective access to the labour market. This change is transformative. It opens up new opportunity and the promise of dignity, a degree of autonomy, and the chance to maintain a semblance of ordinary life while awaiting a decision on refugee status. It also allows asylum seekers to contribute their skills and economic potential to Irish society, opening up the domestic economy to a diversity of experience, knowledge and skills.

As a matter of public policy, we must embrace the opportunity which the Right to Work affords. As a small, open economy in a globalised context, the skills which people seeking asylum and refugees bring are an asset to Ireland. Self-sufficiency should be our goal rather than the current policy of enforced institutionalisation and dependence. To properly achieve this, key supports will need to be provided to facilitate prospective employers and employees and to remove unnecessary structural barriers.

In 2018, we have also seen the continuation of the refugee crisis in Europe and the ongoing calls for greater European solidarity with Southern member states working to manage the flow of people into Europe. The Irish Refugee Council is calling on Ireland to play a leading role in the reform at EU level and the effort to encourage greater EU-wide solidarity. The Irish Refugee Protection Programme stands as a shining example of the moral leadership Ireland can show in transforming the lives of those in desperate need of international protection. The Government’s plan for Global Ireland 2025 should put these international responsibilities at the heart of Irish diplomacy.

The housing crisis continues to hurt the most vulnerable groups in Irish society. For refugees, the difficulty of securing accommodation is acute. Over 560 people with refugee status remain living in Direct Provision because they are unable to secure alternative accommodation. This delays the integration process even further, trapping them in an institutionalised environment, impeding integration, and leaving their lives in limbo. We need an integration strategy which supports the transition of refugees out of Direct Provision and gives them the help they need to get their feet on the ground. It is vital that people requiring state supports do not fall between the inter-departmental cracks. We also urgently need to address the growing delay in processing asylum applications.

The Irish Refugee Council called for a number of small changes in Budget 2019 which will mark huge improvements for the lives of the roughly 5,000 people in the asylum process and our new residents with refugee status. Our pre-budget submissions called for a modest allocation of resources which have the aim of creating a fairer, more welcoming Ireland for some of the most vulnerable people living on this island.

When we speak about policy decisions around asylum seekers in Ireland, we must remember that asylum seekers are a small population of just 4,947 people, including 1,568 children. The cost of our budget proposals is, in the scheme of Exchequer funds, very small—just €6,808,681.60. Yet, we know from our work with asylum seekers and refugees that spending this small amount on the key areas we’ve identified will improve their daily lives in small but vital ways.

In the context of a growing economy and in recognition of the broad wealth of skills which asylum seekers bring to us as a small country in a globalised world, Budget 2019 must include provisions to help asylum seekers make the most of their new life in Ireland. We work with asylum seekers every day who are grateful for the protection which Ireland affords them, but they are also ready and willing to contribute to the society they live in. The incremental changes which we outline in this submission are small budgetary adjustments which will make a big difference in practice.

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