Case Note: The Queen (on the application of Citizens UK) and Secretary of State for the Home Department [2018] EWCA Civ 1812

This guest blog by Jessica Brennan (UCC School of Law PhD researcher) analyses the recent UK decision on the treatment of children in the so-called ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais.

Court Misled Over Treatment of Children in Calais

This matter came before the Court by way of an appeal against the order of Soole J. The claim related to the lawfulness of what is known as the ‘expedited process’ which was established by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Respondent, together with the French authorities in October 2016 in response to the impending demolition of the makeshift tented encampment in Calais which was commonly known as ‘the Jungle’. Using the expedited process, the Respondent sought to assess the eligibility of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to be transferred to the United Kingdom.

The legal argument revolved around whether the expedited process was unfair and therefore unlawful on any or all of the grounds advanced by Citizens UK; under EU law, under the common law or under the Human Rights Act of 1998. The Court of Appeal had the advantage of seeing further evidence which was not before the High Court or the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber. Citizens UK argued at appeal stage that even if the position were otherwise at first instance, the additional evidence demonstrates that there was fundamental unfairness in the expedited process. Complaint was also made that the Secretary of State breached their duty of candour and co-operation with the Courts.

Factual Background

The demolition of the Calais camp was announced on 7th October 2016. This led to discussions between the Secretary of State and the French authorities, with a view to expanding and modifying a pilot process for an ‘accelerated’ Dublin III procedure. The expedited process, which became known as ‘Operation Purnia’, ultimately consisted of two phases. The first phase was an interview, decision-making and transfer phase, which took place at the camp itself in the last two weeks of October 2016. Approximately 200 children were transferred to the UK in the first phase. On 28 October 2016 the French authorities asked the Secretary of State to cease interviewing at the camp. In early November children began to be dispersed to CAOMIs (Centres d’accueil et d’orientation pour mineurs isloes) across France. That dispersal gave rise to Phase 2 of the expedited process. The second phase of the process related to 1,872 unaccompanied children who had not been fully processed in Phase 1. In the second phase, 90 UK officials interviewed the children in 20-minute slots over a period of three weeks. Interviews with family members in the UK were conducted by telephone by UK based officials. Decisions were made by comparing the paper records of those two interviews.

Following both phases a total of approximately 550 children were identified as being eligible for transfer under Dublin III and transferred to the UK between October and December 2016. However, over 500 children claiming to have family members in the UK were not transferred at that time. Refusal decisions were communicated not directly to the children but to the French authorities by means of a spreadsheet with only a one-word explanation related to the refusal. Most of the children were then told of the decision by the French authorities. Neither family members in the UK nor the children were contacted by the Secretary of State. They were never told of the reasons for refusal nor given any opportunity to correct errors whether actual or perceived in the decisions. Although there was an opportunity to ask for a reconsideration, in the vast majority of cases there was no new information and on reconsideration, the initial decision was merely confirmed.

Issues

The following issues were considered on appeal:

First, under EU law:

  1. Was Soole J correct to conclude that applications for international protection within the meaning of Article 2(b) of Dublin III had not been made by unaccompanied minor in the expedited process?
  2. Was Soole J correct to conclude that the process fell outside Dublin III and was not governed by its criteria and procedural protections?
  3. Was it lawful for the Secretary of State to devise such a scheme under EU lthe ECHR?

Secondly, was the decision-making process fair as a matter of common law?

Thirdly, was it fair in accordance with the procedural requirements of Article 8 of the ECHR?

Decision

EU Issues

Lord Justice Singh gave the judgment in the matter with Lady Justice Asplin and Lord Justice Hickinbottom concurring. The Judge began by firstly considering the place where a person makes an international protection application and found that international protection is not the same thing as an intention to make such an application after a person has been transferred to another Member State. Furthermore, an application must usually be made in accordance with the procedures laid down in Dublin III. In the present context, that would mean that an unaccompanied minor would have to make an application in France. If it then transpired that the mandatory criteria for a transfer to the UK set out in Article 8 were satisfied, that process would be followed. However, that does not lead to the conclusion that the expedited process adopted bilaterally by France and the UK in the present context amounted to a procedure under Dublin III. The Court found that as a matter of law, the expedited process was not a process under Dublin III.

The next issue considered was whether it was legally permissible for France and the UK to adopt the expedited process. Lord Justice Singh rejected that argument. The Judge found nothing to prevent a Member State from adopting a procedure in its own domestic law which requires an application for asylum to be made on its own territory and not from outside that state. Similarly, there is nothing to prevent two Member States of the EU from bilaterally agreeing that they will adopt a process which sits alongside that in Dublin III. It would be otherwise if they agreed to derogate from the procedural safeguards in Dublin III. However, that is not what the expedited process was. At all material times it was open to an unaccompanied minor in France to make an application for international protection, which would then have to be dealt with in accordance with the requirements of Dublin III. Even the fact that they were not selected for expedited transfer in anticipation of a formal consideration under Dublin III did not preclude them at any material time from making such an application in the future. Lord Justice Singh reached the conclusion that Soole J was correct in his interpretation of the Dublin III Regulation and accordingly rejected the appeal by Citizens UK insofar as it was based upon EU law.

Common law fairness

The Court considered whether the particular circumstances in which the Secretary of State was operating, sufficiently modified the duty to act fairly so as to relieve her from the usual requirements of procedural fairness. Lord Justice Singh agreed with Soole J that the most important concern was the “sparseness” of the reasons which were given for an adverse decision. The argument that it was possible for a person to proceed under Dublin III at all material times which attracted the full panoply of procedural safeguards was flawed for two reasons according to the Judge.

Firstly, it assumes that fairness is not required at an earlier decision-making stage because fairness is required at a later decision-making stage. Secondly, the pure Dublin III process could not in practice be insulated from what had gone before. Lord Justice Singh recognised that the manner in which the expedited procedure operated in practice had implications for the child applicant. For example, some children gave up and never made a formal application under Dublin III because of an adverse decision in the expedited process. The Judge suggested that if brief reasons were conveyed to the children affected at the relevant time, it might have been possible for someone to make a meaningful response, for example correcting some inaccuracy in the information. Conversely, if the reasoning was wholly accurate, it would have stopped them making a futile application for reconsideration or still less a futile application for formal consideration under the full Dublin III process. Lord Justice Singh concluded, the process which was adopted by the Secretary of State in the present context failed to comply with the requirements of procedural fairness as a matter of common law.

Article 8 of the echr

Lord Justice Singh found it unnecessary to lengthen the judgment further by addressing the procedural requirements that might arise under Article 8 of the ECHR but suggested that they could not give greater rights than the common law would in such a context.

the duty of candour and cooperation

The Judge ruled that the duty of candour and co-operation with the court is a “self-policing duty”. A particular obligation falls upon both solicitors and barristers acting for public authorities to assist the court. The duty of candour and co-operation is to assist the court with full and accurate explanations of all the facts relevant to the issues which the court must decide. The Judge warned that witness statements filed on behalf of public authorities in a case such as this must not either deliberately or unintentionally obscure areas of central relevance; and those drafting them should look carefully at the wording used to ensure that it does not contain any ambiguity or is economical with the truth. The duty not to mislead the court can occur by omission, for example by the non-disclosure of a material document or fact or by failing to identify the significance of a document or fact.

Lord Justice Singh reviewed the additional evidence available only at appeal stage and in particular the email correspondence between officials working on behalf of the Secretary of State. It came to the attention of the Court through this additional documentation that the French authorities requested more detailed reasons of refusal to be given to the minors. Such a request was refused by the British authorities on the ground that this would give rise to the risk of legal challenge. Further, it was found that the filter process had not been adequately explained in evidence, particularly the possibility of reconsideration. Lord Justice Singh concluded there was a serious breach of the duty of candour and co-operation in the present proceedings. The effect, even if it was unintentional, was that significant evidence was not brought to the attention of the High Court.

The Judge added that it was purely by chance that the Court came to learn of such important matters, including what was said in contemporaneous emails in December 2016 and January 2017. The most serious omission was the failure by those presenting evidence on behalf of the Secretary of State to explain the true reason why they refused to provide an adequate explanation to the unaccompanied minors as to why their claim had been refused. The Court found that such a decision was not based on urgency or because the French authorities demanded a greater explanation but because the British authorities did not wish to do so because of a perceived risk of legal challenge.

The Judge found that:

  1. there was a serious breach of the duty of candour and co-operation by the Secretary of State; and
  2. the evidence before the Court supported the submission made by Citizens UK that the process adopted was unfair and unlawful as a matter of common law.

Conclusion

A declaration was granted that there was a breach of the duty of fairness under the common law. As this was a generic challenge by a non-governmental organisation and given that the expedited process is now long in the past, no other remedy was deemed necessary or appropriate. This case highlights the responsibility placed on persons such as the Secretary of State to carry out their duties in a fair and lawful manner at all times and further reiterates the fact that children are entitled to the same fair procedures and processes as adults.

An Analysis of Common Justifications for Prisoner Disenfranchisement

This guest blog by Samantha Morgan-Williams (UCC School of Law PhD researcher) examines recent developments in the UK regarding prisoner disenfranchisement.

The ongoing saga of prisoner disenfranchisement in the UK has recently come to a head with the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe closing the supervision of the prisoners’ voting rights cases against the United Kingdom (UK) in December 2018. In adopting final resolution CM/ResDH(2018)467 the Committee has effectively accepted that the limited ‘administrative amendments’ are sufficient to satisfy the ECtHR. In the wake of the New Zealand Supreme Court’s confirmation that disenfranchising prisoners is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, and amidst the enfranchisement of 1.5million convicted felons in Florida, this post seeks to revisit the political basis for disenfranchising prisoners, appraising determining the core arguments presented for justifying blanket bans on prisoner disenfranchisement.

Justification for Prisoner Disenfranchisement

Proponents of a ban on prisoner voting often justify disenfranchisement under one of the following reasons: the civic death or civic virtue ground; the social contract; or that disenfranchising prisoners achieves sentencing aims.

The Civic Death/ Civic Virtue Argument

The civic virtue and civic death arguments, although predominantly intertwined and spawned from the same ideology, differ on the actual reason or main aim of their use. The civic virtue argument stems from the act of committing of a crime as a member of a democratic process. This strand of this argument asserts that when one violates the laws one participated in creating, that one defaults on the agreement to respect the law and hence forfeits any right to assist further in creating it, in short, one loses their civic virtue. However, in order to say that prisoners lack civic virtue, certain generalisations must be inferred about their character and although it is true that people who break the law seemingly do not respect the law, the justification on this premise for taking away their vote based on a lack of civic virtue appears to create or infer a second punishment. Traditionally in most jurisdictions, sentences for crimes appear in the form of incarceration, thereby invoking the issue that if there has already been a punishment given, then what is the second crime then that prisoners are being punished for by forfeiting their vote? It follows that disenfranchisement is fundamentally an additional punishment and as such requires an additional justification, yet none has ever been supplied as far as this author can gauge. Consequentially this idea of civic death or a second punishment appears jurisprudentially to be morally unjustifiable. Thomas Hammarberg, former Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, has articulated his opinion on this matter stating that:

 Prisoners though deprived of physical liberty, have human rights … Measures should be taken to ensure that imprisonment does not undermine rights, which are unconnected to the intention of the punishment.

Thomas Hammarberg

The civic death argument, much like the civic virtue argument, centres on a removal of civic rights or the right to be involved in the shaping of society by virtue of committing a crime. In losing civic virtue, one befalls civic death, a term which conjures forth draconian ideas of having damaged the democratic process and as a result losing all rights. In other words, if you refuse to follow the law, you clearly do not respect it and should lose the ability to partake in its development.

Although this is the most common justification used to justify the continuation of a blanket ban on voting for those imprisoned, it is undoubtedly the weakest, stemming from the fact that those who utilise the argument have yet to explain its rationale. Further, a brief overview of the history of this particular justification serves to undermine its very practice. The claim of civic death suggests that through the act of their crimes, prisoners lose their civic virtue, are no longer worthy of being afforded civic duties and as a result befall ‘civic death.’ It is apparent therefore that the relationship between the individual and the state changes radically when one is found guilty of an offence and incarcerated.

It is clear therefore the connected civic death and civic virtue argument is decidedly weak and standing as it does on feeble and unpersuasive evidence. The term ‘civic virtue’ is used as haphazardly as ‘civic death’ in support of prisoner disenfranchisement, with little evidence that its proponents can even define the essential term of the premise nor explain how it justifies the ban.

The Social Contract

The Social Contract theory has been used to justify the current stance taken in Australasia by the Australian and New Zealand Legislators respectively. In Australia, prisoners serving sentences of more than three years are denied the right to vote, and the Australian Human Rights Commission recognised that this is in breach of the State’s obligations under Article 25 ICCPR. In New Zealand, the position was much more severe, mirroring the UK’s stance with the effect that no person incarcerated after the amendment could register on the electoral roll. The High Court of New Zealand, highlighted the weakness of such arguments in the Arthur William Taylor case:

[T]hose ‘who infringe the laws of society to the extent that they are put into penal institutions should not be entitled to exercise a vote in a general election.’ A principled view to the contrary of Justice, is that a sentence of imprisonment should not deprive a person of civil rights, beyond those inherent in the sentence, namely freedom of movement and association. (Taylor v Attorney General [2015] NZHC 1706 at 25).

Taylor v Attorney General [2015] NZHC 1706 at 25

The use of the Social Contract argument places a great deal of trust and onus onto the effectiveness of a criminal justice system, as in order for the Social Contract theory to stick as a justification, we would need to ensure that all criminals are incarcerated or there would need to be an insured and complete consistency in sentencing process and a clear delineation of such. Pursuant to this, the Social Contract theory gives no guidance as to how we should do this or how we should create this degree of seriousness and minimal threshold. Furthermore, this argument neglects the comparative and complementary question of whether society has upheld its duties to the criminal, as they are also a person given obligations under the Social Contract. In short, we must not forget that the contract is bilateral.

The second strand of the Social Contract argument can perhaps be offered as an indicator of why the punishment manifests itself in such a way. The Social Contract theory asserts that when one violates the laws one participated in creating, the criminal defaults on the agreement to respect the law and hence abdicates any right to assist further in creating it. In short, while the first argument is based on the fact of the law breaking, the latter part of the argument claims that society can deny the vote to citizens based on an inference about their attitude to the law, given their law-breaking. In summary, both the civic death and Social Contract argument appear to follow the rather arbitrary approach that if you refuse to follow the law you clearly do not respect it and should lose the ability to partake in its development.

Achieving Sentencing Aims

A further justification often presented in favour of a continuing ban on prisoner enfranchisement is the premise that the blanket ban serves certain sentencing aims. Such a position is arguably the most untenable, particularly when one considers the vast research evidencing that engaging prisoners in civic duties mitigates ‘othering’ and has a direct consequence lowered rates of recidivism. This position however, found great favour in the UK in their attempts to justify the blanket ban created under the s.3 of the Representation of the People Act, 1983.

During a statement providing evidence before the Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoner) Bill, the Right Honourable Jack Straw MP (former Home Secretary and Justice Secretary) and David Davies MP (former Shadow Home Secretary and Minister for Europe) both advocated this approach:

By committing offences which by themselves or taken with any aggravating circumstances including the offender’s character and previous criminal record require a custodial sentence, such prisoners have forfeited the right to have a say in the way the country is governed for that period.

Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoner) Bill

Consequently, despite the over-generalisation of politicians contrary to this, research proves that maintaining a life as close to normality as possible during incarceration will make re-integration an easier process, aide rehabilitation and diminish recidivism rates upon the prisoner’s release. This point was recognised by Judge Caflisch in Hirst (No. 2) at para. 5 of his concurring judgment where he stated that:

The UK Government further contended that disenfranchisement in the present case was in harmony with the objectives of preventing crime and punishing offenders thereby enhancing civic responsibility (judgment, §50). I doubt that very much. I believe, on the contrary, that participation in the democratic process may serve as a first step toward re-socialisation.

Judge Caflisch in Hirst (No. 2) at para. 5

The supporting claim here is that the loss of the vote sends a clear message to the wrongdoer about the evil of their conduct: are we telling them that because they are a bad person they will not only be incarcerated but also further excluded as they committed a crime and their opinion is no longer valued? The second aim offered under the title of sentencing aims is deterrence. However, there is little evidence to support this stance and therefore this justification fails for two reasons. Firstly, policy makers are assuming that people know about disenfranchisement laws. Evidence suggests however the majority of those incarcerated are more concerned with maintaining their personal and familial relationships and losing their freedom than with their suffrage. Thus, the deterrence value of the deprivation of a right to vote is slim to none. Acknowledging that there are exceptions to each rule, it appears that if a person has chosen to forsake their civil liberties then deprivation of their electoral rights may not provide effective deterrence. On the contrary, greater civic involvement actually contributes to an easier transition into life post-incarceration.

Conclusion

In summary, recent events resulting in the enfranchisement of prisoners have been both welcomed and scorned in equal measure. When considering the interdivisibility of human rights and the apparent ‘worthy’ rights holder which disenfranchising prisoners creates, it is clear that prisoner disenfranchisement is an extremely polarising issue and arguably at odds with a number of legal norms. However, when the justifications for restricting prisoners from exercising their voting rights are examined, it is clear that such justifications – civic death, civic virtue, the social contract and the ambiguous achieving of sentencing aims – cannot withstand scrutiny.

CCJHR Annual Distinguished Lecture 2018: Professor Rhona Smith

The Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights is delighted to be hosting Professor Rhona Smith to conduct our Annual Distinguished Lecture which is being held this week – Thursday 6th December 2018 from 5.30pm-8pm.

Professor Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, will deliver this years Distinguished Lecture on:

The centrality of human rights in creating durable peace, stability and development: lessons from Cambodia. 

The event coincides with key human rights anniversaries including Human Rights Day (10th December) which this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (9th December).

Professor Smith is highly respected expert in international human rights and has been the UN Special Rapporteur for Cambodia since 2015.

The event is being held in UCC’s Executive Education Centre, The Banking Hall, 1 Lapp’s Quay. Registration (with tea/coffee) is at 17.30. The lecture will start at 18.00 and will be followed by a short wine reception at 19.30.

Details and tickets are available on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/ccjhr-11th-distinguished-lecture-tickets-52816001081

CPD points are available.

Call for Papers: Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies

Call for Papers

The Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies is a biannual peer-reviewed journal published by Brill | Nijhoff.

JIHLS logo

JIHLS logo

The objective of the Journal is to explore the application of international law to humanitarian crises and, more specifically, to examine the role that this legal framework plays in protecting human security during times of emergency.

The scope of the Journal is broad and it publishes papers on international humanitarian legal issues including but not limited to: the law of international and non-international armed conflict; the protection of human rights during times of armed conflict; international refugee law; military law; disaster law; the law of post-conflict reconstruction; and international criminal law.

The Editors-in-Chief are Russell Buchan (University of Sheffield, UK), Emily Crawford (University of Sydney, Australia) and Rain Liivoja (University of Queensland, Australia).

The Journal is now accepting contributions for Volume 10(1), which will be published in late 2019. The Journal publishes full length articles (of no more than 10,000 words), shorter commentaries and case comments (4,000 words), and book reviews (1,500 words). The Journal welcomes contributions from academics, government and non-governmental organisation officials, military personnel, and practitioners working in the humanitarian field more generally.

Contributions must adhere to OSCOLA referencing style. Guidance on preparing and submitting manuscripts is available at www.jihls.net/authors. For contributions to be considered for publication in Volume 10(1) they must be submitted no later than the 15 January 2019. Any queries may be addressed to the Editors-in-Chief at editors@jihls.net.

For previous issues of the Journal, see brill.com/ihls.

Call for Abstracts: Yearbook of International Disaster Law

The Yearbook of International Disaster Law (YIDL) aims to foster the interest of academics and practitioners on legal and institutional issues relevant to all forms of natural, technological and human-made disasters, including rapid and slow onset events, but excluding events such as armed conflicts or political/financial crises per se. The YIDL is a double-blind peer review journal published by Brill/Nijhoff.

For its inaugural issue (vol. 1, 2018) the YIDL welcome submissions of abstracts for papers addressing topics pertaining to any issue of international disaster law. Abstracts shall be sent by 15th November 2018 at the e-mail address: info@yearbookidl.org The YIDL also welcomes suggestions for book reviews.

Abstracts should be between 700-1,000 words, including relevant citations. Authors are also kindly requested to attach a short curriculum vitae to their e-mail. Further details available in the attached call.

‘Beyond McMahon – the future of asylum reception in Ireland’

We are delighted to welcome this guest post by Claire Dorrity, lecturer in social policy in the School of Applied Social Studies, UCC.

Nasc logoOn Wednesday 25th April 2018 Nasc and the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights (CCJHR) co-hosted a conference in UCC on the future of asylum reception in Ireland. The conference participants included members of the Working Group (Working Group to Report to Government on the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers), academics, representatives from state institutions, international speakers from both the Portuguese and the Scottish Refugee Councils, representatives from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Migrant NGO representatives, and members of the asylum seeking community in Ireland. The main foci of the conference related specifically to the system of direct provision, models of integration and rights that are afforded to asylum seekers.

Broadly speaking, asylum policy incorporates three key areas: – 1) the rights and entitlements of those entering the state to seek asylum, 2) the reception conditions afforded to asylum seekers by the state, and 3) how asylum issues are represented both in policy and practice. The political representation of asylum issues will also be determined by the modes of participation, engagement and inclusion available to asylum seekers. In Ireland, rights available to asylum seekers to influence political outcomes and decision-making processes remain severely restricted. This is mostly attributed to the nature of immigration policy, more specifically the asylum process and the restricted status asylum seekers occupy within the Irish state (Titley, 2012; Lentin, 2004).

The system of direct provision (DP) has been in operation in Ireland since 1999 and was made the official mechanism for the reception of asylum seekers in 2000. Prior to the introduction of DP, asylum seekers had the right to access the labour market and receive social welfare payments, equivalent to that of an Irish citizen. The system of DP, however, removed that right and since then asylum seekers have been the subject of an increasing array of restrictions on many of their basic human rights. The system of DP placed asylum seekers in designated accommodation centres dispersed around the country and has continued to operate for the past 18 years.

The exclusionary aspects of DP are well documented (Kinlan, 2013; Arnold, 2012; Lentin, 2012; Titley, 2012; Akidwa, 2010; FLAC 2010; Considine and Dukelow, 2009). They are evident in the location of DP centres, generally located away from local communities, limiting the ability of asylum seekers to integrate into communities. Also evident in this system is the denial of the right to work and third level education, economic marginalisation, conflated with limited rights and freedoms. A weekly allowance of €19.10 per week adults and €9.60 per child was permitted from 2000 until 2016. This rate did not change in over 16 years despite incremental increases in other social welfare allowances. In January 2016 the child allowance increased to €15.60 and the adult weekly allowance now stands at €21.10 (Department of Social Protection, 2016). In 2017 the rate increased to €21.60 for both adults and children (Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection).

The administering of the direct provision system is carried out by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), as part of the Department of Justice and Equality, who are contracted to provide full board and accommodation for asylum seeker residents. There is currently no requirement for staff employed in DP centres to undertake training in the area of child protection or to have had any training of working with asylum seekers, vulnerable people or children (Irish Refugee Council, 2013). However, RIA has now brought their child protection policies in line with new legislation and have a dedicated seconded Tusla social worker on staff. There is also now a requirement for training in child protection when working with vulnerable children and adults (RIA, 2018).

The introduction of the policy of DP has been widely criticized, by both academics and migrant NGOs alike, for its failure to consult with asylum seekers and migrant NGOs prior to its implementation and also for the exclusionary and restrictive nature of the system and its impact on the daily lives of asylum seekers (O’Connor, 2003; Healy, 2007; Lentin 2012). Furthermore, while the European Union introduced a Council Directive 2003/9/EC of 27 January 2003 (revised in 2013) putting in place minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers, the Irish state opted out of this directive. This allowed Ireland to continue administering the system of DP at a policy level. The system allows for little recourse for those living within DP accommodation (Irish Refugee Council, 2011). In 2012 the Irish Refugee Council released a document addressing child poverty in the DP system entitled ‘State Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion’. The report highlighted both child poverty and child protection issues. More specifically it stated:

The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, has raised concerns about the detrimental effect of Direct Provision accommodation on children and on parents’ ability to provide adequate care. He describes the system as amounting to institutionalised poverty (2012:21)

Also highlighted was ‘unsuitable living conditions, malnourishment, poverty, exclusion and lack of play space’ (2012: 21). The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission have also repeatedly expressed concern about the human rights of residents in DP (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, 2014). Both NGOs and academic commentators have criticised the system and highlighted the challenges to integration that DP presents for asylum seekers (Irish Refugee Council, 2012; FLAC, 2010; Nasc 2007; Fanning 2002).

Reflections on the Conference

Political representation is highlighted as one of the most crucial avenues to democratic processes of representation (Pitkin, 1967). It both establishes the legitimacy of democratic institutions while also creating institutional incentives for state bodies to respond (Dovi, 2017). Political representation has been acknowledged as an important means of providing voice to oppressed groups through assigning meaning to the manner in which groups are represented and importing significant issues and their relevance into the body politic (Young, 2000). The literature on inclusive political representation indicates that the exercise of voice and demanding more responsiveness and accountability from state institutions is more likely to occur when other participatory mechanisms are present (Rocha Menocal, 2014). In this context, developing more inclusive representative structures and fostering strong mechanisms of inclusion is highly significant.

The conference ‘Beyond McMahon – the future of asylum reception in Ireland’ took a step towards facilitating inclusive dialogue on key asylum issues. It provided an interactive space involving the participation of state and non-state actors, along with a range of participants working directly or indirectly with asylum seekers. Most refreshing was the inclusion of the voices of asylum seekers. Lucky Khambule, a spokesperson from MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) gave a poignant contribution from the perspective of the asylum seeker, giving the audience a real insight into the lived experience of those accommodated in the DP system. This provided both the speakers and the attendees with a clear sense of how oppression and injustice operates within the DP system.

The international perspectives from both Teresa Mendes, Director of the Portuguese Refugee Council and Sabir Zazai, Director of the Scottish Refugee Council provided an invigorating alternative to systems such as DP, placing a focus on the importance of making explicit the vital supports required for asylum seekers when arriving in host countries. Both of these approaches provided avenues for new thinking in relation to how Ireland might respond to the reception of asylum seekers in future policy formation. Both contributions highlighted the important role refugees play in enriching and providing positive contributions to host societies. The right to work was highlighted as playing a crucial role in supporting refugees to integrate into community life. Promoting autonomy within the asylum seeking community was also viewed as a key factor in ensuring successful and inclusive participation and integration. These explicitly inclusive and supportive systems of reception illustrate how the Scottish and Portuguese models emphasise humanitarian principles and place human security at the centre of their approach. It also highlights how such approaches can assist in resolving some of the tensions and challenges Ireland currently faces.

Overall the conference discussions illuminated the need for a more coordinated approach to asylum policy that does not involve punitive measures or prolonged periods of time in DP. The contributions and discussions made clear that any coherent policy must prioritise rights and dignity. This will require a willingness on the part of all parties to accept that the current system is not fit for purpose and failing asylum seekers socially, financially and politically. In bringing together all parties, the conference set the foundations for building better working relationships but highlighted that such relationships must place asylum seekers at the forefront of this process. This will require new and different approaches, one that treats asylum seekers in a more humane and dignified way and as people who can make a valuable contribution to Irish society if given the opportunity to do so.

Further References: