‘Absolutely clear’ State is failing in duty to meet basic needs of asylum seekers, court hears

Human rights body says lack of resources ‘cannot be relied upon’ as excuse for not meeting obligations

It is “absolutely clear” that the State has failed to meet its international obligations to meet the basic needs of all asylum seekers, a human rights body has argued in the High Court.

Lawyers for the State-funded Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) submitted that the court should grant orders requiring the Government to bring “to an end” the current situation.

The court has begun hearing the IRHEC’s action challenging the lack of “material reception conditions” for many adult male international protection applicants. This is the first time the commission has used its powers, under the 2014 IHREC Act, to bring representative proceedings concerning others’ human rights.

It was announced on December 4th last that the State for the second time could no longer provide shelter to all newly arrived men.

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The IHREC’s senior counsel, Eoin McCullough, told the court on Wednesday that 1,715 applicants were still awaiting an accommodation offer as of May 10th.

A lack of resources “cannot be relied upon” as an excuse for failing to meet the basic needs of asylum seekers, as required by Article 1 of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, he said. The State argues it is “doing its best” and for various technical reasons IHREC’s request is not appropriate, but the commission seeks to demonstrate it is, in fact, “incumbent” on the court to grant the orders it seeks, he said.

The State’s duty is “not one of best efforts” but is a “legally binding obligation”, he said.

The failure to accommodate these men and to protect their physical and mental health is a breach of their rights, he said, adding that there are “real risks” to their security and health while sleeping rough.

The commission’s case follows on from a High Court decision of April 2023 that ruled that the Minister for Integration breached his obligations to accommodate an Afghan asylum seeker who had to resort to begging after arriving in the State. The court said a €28 Dunnes Stores voucher and the addresses of private charities “does not come close to what is required”.

Since then the State has raised the weekly payment to those left homeless by €75 and has formal arrangements with charities to provide them with food and hygiene facilities.

The Minister, Attorney General and Ireland are contesting the commission’s case and deny Ireland is failing to meet its duties.

Mr McCullough said the new €113.80 weekly allowance is insufficient and “clearly” does not enable the men to source their own shelter. The financial increase and other changes do not bring the State into line, he said.

The three-day case continues before Mr Justice Barry O’Donnell on Thursday, when the State is due to begin its defence.

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