8 Facts You Should Probably Know About Asylum Seekers Before Opening Your Mouth On The Subject

Up till last year, and like many Irish people, subjects such as migration, refugees, and the asylum seeking process were all shoved together and filed under an ‘I couldn’t care less’ folder in my head.

For pretty much my whole life, I was known amongst friends and family to pass stupid remarks such as ‘but sure why would they come here if they’ve no jobs lined up?’ … ‘Why are they out begging – they should get jobs!’ … ‘Sure they’re only coming over here for the dole!’ etc, etc.

If I was speaking about asylum seekers/migrants/refugees (as I said, at the time there was no distinction between them, in my mind) in any regard, you can bet the comments were ill-informed, uneducated, single-minded and said without any regards for actual fact.

Since volunteering in a refugee camp twice last year, and having had the privilege of learning more in the last six months than I did during six years of secondary school (which was my fault, not the schools!) I can safely say that informing yourself of the current crisis is literally ~the~ only way in which we can converse on such matters.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting we all up sticks and head over to Syria with our Trocaire boxes in tow– but we do need to educate ourselves to a level where we are not spewing out what is effectively  hate-spreading, racist bile,  and in turn, basically making the world an even more revolting place than it already is.

At the time of volunteering, I was working for myself as a Fashion Illustrator. I used to spend hours of my own time drawing celebrities in order to gain notoriety for my social media pages. Upon returning, and no longer idolising those who had the power to change the world with one tweet, but took naked photos of themselves instead, I swore I’d use my previously-occupied-with-drawing-Kylie-Jenner time to do something that might actually mean something, and wanted to use my experiences and learnings to write about  Refugees, Migration, Asylum Seekers and Direct Provision.

Like many, I see so much embarrassingly untrue shite on my Facebook wall – and even if one person learns something from this, and it stops them from posting some vitriolic racist untruth in the comments section of  an Irish Times article about any of the above, then my work here is done.


Photo from the Irish Independent


So, what exactly is an ‘asylum seeker’ then?

An asylum seeker is a person who has left their home country and is seeking to be recognised as a refugee. If they are granted this recognition they are declared a refugee. This basically means several white people will interview you, and then decide if what you’ve told them about the war, persecution, starvation, and oppression you’ve suffered in your home country is enough to warrant you a refugee.

And where exactly do these people come from?

Globally, the top three countries of origin for refugees are the war-torn Syria (250K dead in four years), Afghanistan (over 25K dead since 2001) and Somalia (estimated 1 million dead since 1991).

I suppose they get handed a house as soon they get here?

No actually. They don’t. While their application is being processed, asylum seekers are housed in Direct Provision accommodation centres around the country.  This means that they  are basically put in to hostel-like accommodation, where large families are often housed in one room, and singles usually share a room with others of the same sex.  The shower and toilet facilities are shared, and their meals are cooked for by those running the centres, and served at a set time each day.  There are no facilities for preparing meals in the vast majority of centres.

And what exactly is Direct Provision?

Direct Provision was set up in 1999 as an emergency measure by the Irish Government. In 2002 there were almost 12,000 applications for asylum. At the start of 2014, there were 4,360 people living in direct provision, with more than 3,000 people have been in the system for two or more years. At the same time, there were more than 1,600 people who have spent five or more years in direct provision. FIVE YEARS. Direct Provision was only ever meant to be ‘a thing’ for six months.


It sounds like a hotel, what’s so bad about it?

Direct Provision has been labelled “inhuman and degrading” in a court case being taken against Justice MinisterFrances Fitzgerald, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton and the Attorney General Maire Whelan, asserting that the system is illegal under both the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, and all other international human rights conventions that Ireland has subscribed to. (source:wiki)

Direct Provision robs innocent people of both their past and their future. Living in a constant state of limbo, not being able to do a thing for yourself. Not being able to cook traditional meals for your family and having to queue with tens of others to put your hand our for basics such as nappies and female hygiene products. It is utterly  degrading, and a complete violation of human rights. it is almost 20 years in Ireland, it is a disgrace.

Ok, so why don’t they just get jobs then!? 

Oh, didn’t you know? Asylum seekers are not permitted to work in Ireland, therefore they are forced to depend on the state. There are highly skilled, and of course, those less skilled than others, people not being allowed work. Most are begging to be allowed to work.

 So they’re basically just scrounging on the dole?

Nope. Asylum seekers receive a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child.  This must cover any additional school expenses, clothing, footwear, toiletries, phone credit, internet access, etc. €19.10 – the equivalent of a box of smokes and a bottle of wine in Spar.

That must cost us taxpayers a bomb!

There are approximately 5,000 asylum seekers living in DP at the moment, which, imagining 50% are adults and 50% children, would cost the state around €70,500 in ‘handouts’ per year.

To put that in some context, the total Social Benefit expenditure in Ireland  in 2016 will amount to €19.638 BILLION, and the recent ‘Christmas Bonus’ awarded to those in receipt of Social Welfare cost the state €197 million alone.

The weekly allowance given to Asylum Seekers is amounts to about 0.0003% of the total Social Welfare budget. Despite the 1000’s of Irish people offering to volunteer with asylum seeker living in Direct Provision, the Irish government does not allow any such help, and chooses to pay private contractors in excess of €50million a year instead.

Some other facts about Direct Provision:

  • Children are entitled to go to school and college, but the majority cannot afford to. Remember, adults get less than €20 a week, and children get less than €10. Think how hard it is for an white, Irish, catholic child to secure a place in a primary school and now try to imagine how much harder it is for an asylum seeker.



Something to think about, eh?


Holly Shortall


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