Call to give child benefit to asylum seekers

Resource type: News

The Irish Times |

Payment of child benefit should be restored for children of asylum seekers to ensure families can have a basic standard of living, the head of the State’s advisory body on racism said yesterday. Philip Watt, of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, said children of asylum seekers were now the only category of children in the country who were not entitled to the payment. The payment of child benefit was discontinued after the introduction of the habitual residency condition, a measure aimed at restricting welfare benefits to citizens of new EU states. Despite the non-payment of child benefit and the small weekly allowance of €19.10 available to asylum seekers, Mr Watt said myths regarding their eligibility to State assistance were commonplace. “There are still myths out there that asylum seekers are entitled to huge amounts of money, way above unemployment benefit, or that they have got mobile phones or cars from the State,” he said. “The reality is much different. The cash payment they are entitled to – €19.10 for adults and €9.60 per child each week – hasn’t been increased for at least six or seven years. It doesn’t pay for much, beyond a bus fare and some extra food.” Mr Watt was speaking at the launch of a leaflet challenging myths and misinformation on asylum seekers and refugees in Ireland, published with the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. The leaflet points out that asylum seekers are the smallest category of migrants entering Ireland, with 33,000 asylum applications over the last five years compared with 320,000 migrants. It points out that asylum seekers are not entitled to go on public housing waiting lists and there is no evidence that the crime rate is higher among asylum seekers or refugees than in the population as a whole. Separately, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) published its annual report this week which shows that workplace exploitation continues to be a major issue among migrant workers. It found that agriculture, domestic work and hotel and catering showed the highest levels of exploitation among the 4,000 migrants who sought help from it last year. It found that many workers are becoming undocumented, having come into the country legally with a work permit. Almost two-thirds of those who lost their legal status had experienced exploitation. In addition, the largest numbers of migrant workers becoming undocumented were in the same sectors showing the highest levels of exploitation. In response to the high levels of exploitation, the centre has helped establish support groups for domestic workers, agricultural workers, and, most recently, restaurant workers. Jacqueline Healy, of the MRCI, said it was vital that the government prioritised tackling workplace exploitation. “It will need to engage with and resource organisations like ours who work directly with migrant workers, if exploitation is to be tackled effectively and barriers to integration addressed,” she said.