Direct Provision complaints to Ombudsman fall due to Covid-19 restrictions

Direct Provision complaints to Ombudsman fall due to Covid-19 restrictions

Muireann Duffy

The number of complaints made to the Office of the Ombudsman by people living in Direct Provision centres fell by over 100 last year due to staff not being able to record complaints in person because of Covid-19 restrictions.

The Ombudsman's annual commentary on Direct Provision revealed 61 complaints were received last year, compared to 168 in 2019.

The issues raised by residents included concerns about the movement of people from existing accommodation, the transfer of people to self-isolate in the Citywest complex in Dublin, and allegations that staff were not ensuring public health guidelines were being followed.

Speaking today, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said: "We have found that the best way for direct provision residents to engage with us is through our Outreach programme and our in-person visits to centres.

"Unfortunately, our visits had to be curtailed in 2020. We will recommence these visits in 2021."

Re-location

Among the complaints flagged by the Ombudsman was the relocation of approximately 600 residents by the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) over a three-week period to allow for better social distancing in centres.

Complaints were registered regarding the short notice given to those being moved and the lack of social distancing and facemask wearing during the journeys.

Two complaints were also filed where international protection applicants were unable to take up employment as they were unable to obtain a driving licence. A person must be resident in the EU to qualify for a licence, and as such international protection applicants miss out as their residence status has not yet been decided.

Similar issues arose with bank accounts, with applicants needing to supply a permanent address, and financial institutions will not accept the address of a Direct Provision centre.

The Ombudsman said the Department of Justice is engaging with the Banking Federation of Ireland and other involved parties to resolve this matter.

At the end of February, the Government published a White Paper, detailing their plan to end the Direct Provision system over the next four years.

The plan will see a move away from Direct Provision centres and greater supports for international protection applicants including help in accessing work, healthcare and legal aid.

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