LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A bishop in Ireland is praising the country’s supreme court for striking down a law preventing asylum seekers from working but says more must be done to protect their human dignity.
The supreme court ruling came nearly 9 months after the court declared the ban was “in principle” unconstitutional but gave the government a six-month window to legislate the issue.
“I very much welcome the judgement today of the Supreme Court that the ban on the employment of asylum seekers is unconstitutional,” said Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin.
Asylum seekers are those legally in a country requesting for refugee status. Since the process can drag on indefinitely, taking years to complete, the court said it violates the Irish constitution’s right to work.
According to government statistics there were 5,353 asylum seekers in Ireland at the end of November 2017, and 42 percent of them had held that status for more than two years. The majority of asylum seekers have the application for refugee status denied by the Irish government when their case concludes.
While waiting for their decision, asylum seekers receive a personal allowance of around $25 a week.
The case was brought by an asylum seeker from Myanmar, who spent eight years waiting for a decision on his asylum application. (He has since been granted refugee status.)
The government has told the court it will implement the EU Reception Directive’s article on employment, which reads:
- Member States shall ensure that applicants have access to the labor market no later than 9 months from the date when the application for international protection was lodged if a first instance decision by the competent authority has not been taken and the delay cannot be attributed to the applicant.
- Member States shall decide the conditions for granting access to the labor market for the applicant, in accordance with their national law, while ensuring that applicants have effective access to the labor market. For reasons of labor market policies, Member States may give priority to Union citizens and nationals of States parties to the Agreement on the European Economic Area, and to legally resident third-country nationals.
- Access to the labor market shall not be withdrawn during appeals procedures, where an appeal against a negative decision in a regular procedure has suspensive effect, until such time as a negative decision on the appeal is notified.
The court has given the Irish government an additional four months to create a work-permit system for asylum seekers in accordance with the directive.
The EU directive still allows restrictions on work for asylum seekers, and earlier this year, the Irish government introduced a proposal that would require any job taken by an asylum seeker to pay more than $35,000 per year, and that any job an asylum seeker applies for could not be filled by an EU citizen or a migrant with full migration permission in Ireland. It also excludes asylum seekers from several fields of employment and forces them to spend more than $1,000 on a work permit.
Protests were held in Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Limerick on Thursday opposing these conditions, which demonstrators said still made it nearly impossible for asylum seekers to get a job.
“The EU Reception Conditions Directive, which the government plan to opt into, requires that a member state provides people seeking asylum ‘effective access’ to the labor market. From the information released by Government, this test will not be met and the right to work threatens to be an illusion for many,” said a Feb. 9 statement from the Irish Refugee Council.
The council pointed out that under the Irish plan, asylum seekers would not be allowed to be shop assistants, secretaries, certain types of chef, and construction workers.
“The Irish Refugee Council has consistently called for the right to work to be immediately available to people who have waited six months for an asylum decision and without restrictions to particular professions,” the statement said.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission – established by the Irish government, but an independent institution – said it will meet with government officials to ensure that measures for employment are “inclusive and universal, and do not create conditions likely to give rise to exploitation.”
“The Commission welcomes this final ruling and is clear that the threat to human dignity posed by being deprived of any opportunity to engage in employment is not abstract or theoretical for people in direct provision. The right to work is essential for realizing other human rights and forms an inseparable and inherent part of human dignity,” said Emily Logan, the head of the commission.
However, Doran expressed his disappointment that the interim arrangement of the government “still seeks to place so many limits on the employment of asylum seekers.”
“With such a minimalist response to the Supreme Court judgement, very few asylum seekers will actually benefit from the judgement,” the bishop said. “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.”