Pandemic hindered efforts to reduce asylum application wait times, says department

The Covid-19 pandemic “severely impacted” efforts to improve processing times for asylum applications, a orchatas The committee has heard.



The White Paper on Ending Ireland’s Direct Provisioning System, committed to reducing the decision time to nine months, and then to no more than six months by 2024.

Speaking at the Orchatas Justice Committee meeting on Thursday, Onagh Buckley, the Justice Department’s deputy secretary-general said that work is “well progressing” to implement the recommendations from the white paper.



However, it said its ability to improve processing times was negatively impacted by COVID-19, mainly because of its paper-based system.

The recommendation in the white paper said the department should deal with 3,500 applications per year, and Ms Buckley said they were getting “quite close” to that level of production by the end of 2019.



However, as a result of the pandemic, only 2,141 applications were processed in 2020, and by October 2021, around 1,900 were processed this year.

The current average case processing time is 23 months with priority applications, such as AfghanistanIt’s taking 14 months.



“Production of judgments has decreased significantly over the past year and a half. Office attendance has been strictly limited in line with public health guidance, and assistant security interviews were suspended for periods under Level 5 restrictions,” Ms. Buckley said.

Applications for international security continued throughout the pandemic, although at a much lower level.

“However, with the reopening of international travel, the numbers have started to rise quite rapidly,” she said.

Progress

David Delaney, the chief international security officer, said progress had been made in reducing waiting times before the pandemic.

In 2019, the average waiting time dropped to 17 months, falling further to 14 months in the first quarter of 2020.

Mr Delaney said “significant work” has been done to tackle the backlog, with 390 cases being settled last week and 80 interviews being conducted online a week.

Ms Buckley said she believes the measures the department will take will have a “clearly positive impact” on waiting times for applications.

Ms Buckley said additional resources have been provided to the Office of International Security for the next year, and resources have also been allocated for the ICT investments needed to move to a paperless system.

The department will start the review by October next year to evaluate the measures taken to reduce the waiting time.

Ms Buckley also said more than 1,000 people are allowed to live in direct provision because of difficulties in obtaining housing.

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