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Ending asylum seekers’ work ban is welcome, but few will benefit, says Bishop of Elphin

By Cian Molloy - 11 February, 2018

The Supreme Court’s ruling that the government behaved unconstitutionally when imposing a blanket ban on the employment of asylum seekers, has been ‘very much welcomed’ by Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin.

However, the bishop, who is a member of the Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Care and the Council for Justice and Peace, said, “I find it most disappointing that the interim arrangement of the Government still seeks to place so many limits on the employment of asylum seekers.”

The Supreme Court originally made its ruling on the unconstitutional nature of the work ban in November last year, but the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, said the court was ‘exceptionally’ delaying making a formal declaration for six months to allow the government to put its refugee and asylum seekers legislation in order.

The blanket ban on the employment of asylum seekers is contained in Section 16.3.b of the International Protection Act. Before having their application for refugee status approved, asylum seekers in Ireland are housed in hostel-like direct provision accommodation centres, where meals are cooked for residents and served at a set time each day. Usually there are no facilities for residents to prepare meals themselves.

Because of the employment ban, technically asylum seekers cannot be unemployed either, so they do not qualify for the social welfare unemployment assistance payment. Instead, they must make do with a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €15.60 per child, which is all they have to cover additional costs such as school expenses and the purchase of clothing, footwear, toiletries, phone credit, internet access, etc.

Given their meagre subsistence, it is not surprising that many St Vincent de Paul Conferences around the country are helping to provide asylum seekers in local direct-provision hostels with basic comforts and necessities.

The challenge on the constitutionality of the blanket ban was made by a group of Rohingya refugees who came to Ireland after fleeing persecution in Myanmar (Burma). This group of asylum seekers had spent eight years in direct provision awaiting the approval of their applications for refugee status.

Following the Supreme Court’s in principle ruling last year, the government told the court it was in the process of opting-in to the EU Reception Directive, which requires member states to afford the right to work in certain circumstances. It will take another four months from now for Ireland to fully opt into the directive, and to draw up its own work-permit system for asylum seekers.

Bishop Doran commented, “With such a minimalist response to the Supreme Court judgement, very few asylum seekers will actually benefit from the judgement. This does not reflect the equality of dignity or the compassion which is so often promoted as a core value of our society in Ireland.”

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