RIA is a functional unit of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), a division of the Department of Justice .  RIA is charged with providing accommodation and ancillary services to asylum seekers under the Direct Provision system which provides asylum seeker residents with full board accommodation free of utility or other cost. Under this system, RIA seeks to ensure that the material needs of residents, in the period during which their applications for international protection are being processed, are met.

The need to establish RIA arose from the increasing number of Asylum Seekers arriving into the State. A decade ago, these Asylum Seekers were treated as homeless under the then structures in place.  Section 10 of the Housing Act, 1988, while not putting a statutory obligation on local authorities, confers powers on them to directly arrange and fund emergency accommodation, make arrangements with the HSE or a voluntary body for the provision of emergency accommodation, and/or make contributions to voluntary bodies towards the cost of accommodation provided by them.

The structures in that Act were unsuited to the situation facing Ireland in 1999 and subsequent years, when the number of asylum seekers arriving in Ireland increased dramatically.  A total of 7,724 asylum applications were received in 1999 and a further 10,938 in the following year. Of these, most presented themselves in Dublin.  The homeless service of the then Eastern Health Board could not cope and there was a serious prospect of widespread homelessness among asylum seekers.

In response to this serious and unprecedented challenge, the Directorate for Asylum Support Services (DASS), under the aegis of the Department of Justice, was established in November 1999 to coordinate the scheme of dispersal and direct provision for asylum seekers.  DASS was subsequently replaced by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) on 2 April, 2001.

The Government decision to establish the Reception and Integration Agency followed an earlier Government decision that the recommendations in the report of the Interdepartmental Working Group on the Integration of Refugees in Ireland should form the framework for integration policy in Ireland and be implemented. One of the key recommendations of the Working Group was the establishment of a single organisational structure - within the overall framework of structures for asylum and immigration - for co-ordinating the implementation of an integration policy. RIA was established as the vehicle for implementing this recommendation.  That Integration function was assigned to the Integration Unit of the Office of the Minister for Integration, an office newly created in July, 2007 under a Minister of State.

Direct provision provides asylum seekers with full board accommodation and certain ancillary services while their applications for asylum are being processed. There is no obligation placed upon asylum seekers to avail of the accommodation offered by RIA.  Some choose to live with relatives or friends, or make use of their own resources to source accommodation.

In fulfilling its general accommodation responsibilities, the RIA does not 'lease' premises from commercial contractors.  Rather it 'contracts-in' a comprehensive range of services, which include accommodation, catering, housekeeping, etc., for a fixed period of time

 RIA has responsibility for:
• Arranging accommodation and working with statutory and non-statutory agencies to co-ordinate the delivery of other services (including health, social services, welfare and education) for asylum seekers;
• Responding to conflict crisis situations which result in relatively large numbers of refugees arriving in Ireland within a short period of time.
• Supporting the voluntary return, on an agency basis for the Department of Social and Family Affairs, of destitute nationals of the twelve newest EU Member States who fail the Habitual Residency Condition attaching to Social Assistance Payments.

• Contracts suitable commercial accommodation and sites throughout the State for accommodating asylum seekers;
• Contracts out the management (including arrangements for catering and security) of State owned accommodation centres;
• Monitors the operation of accommodation centres on an on-going basis;
• Accommodates asylum seekers at reception centres in Dublin for an initial period of 14 days for the purposes of orientation, information provision, voluntary health screening, needs assessment and assistance with the first stages of asylum applications;
• Disperses asylum seekers from reception centres in Dublin to accommodation centres around the country;
• Co-ordinates the provision of services (health and education) at accommodation centres;
• Provides training and support to proprietors and management of centres;
• Monitors the implementation of contracts for services;
• Engages with local support groups established to befriend and be of assistance to asylum seekers.

RIA has sought to ensure a balanced distribution of accommodation throughout the country, having regard to all the relevant factors, including the following:-

• The type of accommodation (hostel, guesthouse, former hotel etc.);
• The location of the accommodation;
• The local population and the numbers already accommodated by RIA in the area;
• The local infrastructure (transport, schools, hospitals etc.);
• The numbers to be accommodated.