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DUBLIN, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Ireland will replace its much criticised policy on housing asylum seekers by the end of 2024, the government said, ending a system which keeps them in cramped former hotels and guesthouses for long periods.
Ireland introduced the system 21 years ago to temporarily accommodate a big increase in applicants. It has since been repeatedly criticised by international and national human rights organisations, including two different United Nations bodies.
A state-appointed advisory group concluded last year that a system which places applicants for unacceptably long periods in segregated, congregated accommodation with little privacy or scope for normal family life was not fit for purpose.
Under the new proposal, applicants will be housed in state-run reception centres for four months before those still waiting for a decision to be made will be moved to own-door or ownroom accommodation such as houses or apartments.
The advisory group's report said that an average of 3,500 people applied for protection each year over the period 2017-2019.
Applications can take years and a 2017 Supreme Court case found that one man spent almost a decade in the system before being granted refugee status. The government said the current median overall time for an initial recommendation is 20 months.
Applicants and their families will also be offered improved access to welfare, education and health services in a plan that will cost up to 672 million euros, mainly for construction.
"Direct Provision was established 20 years ago, at the time as a temporary solution, but it has remained ever since. Too often it has failed to meet and nurture the basic dignity of people coming to Ireland seeking protection," Minister for Equality and Integration Roderic O'Gorman said on Friday.
Campaign group MASI welcomed the ending of shared living spaces for families but said the same rights should be give to single people and that the proposed four-month reception centre stays should be bound by law.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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