Laura Cashman speaks to a resident of the Kinsale Road Accomodation Centre about the reality of living in Direct Provision in Ireland
The history of Direct Provision in Ireland is a short one. Increased inwards migration in the 90s meant the government had to adopt policies in accordance with this. In 1999, the Direct Provision system was introduced on a pilot basis. It was legalised as policy in April 2000. In 2001, the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) was created with a remit to manage the operation of the system. These introductions saw widespread changes to the treatment of asylum seekers in Ireland, notably with the reduction of access to social welfare support. Asylum seekers in Ireland are not obligated to stay in Direct Provision centres but without access to social welfare, the right to work or to further their education, most have little other choice. The majority of asylum seekers spend three years in Direct Provision, with a significant number of people residing for 7 years or more in the centres.
The inadequacies of Direct Provision have recently come to light following a series of articles in The Irish Times and a High Court case C.A and T.A versus the Minister for Justice, Minister for Social Protection, the Attorney General and Ireland. The case, brought to court by a young mother and her son residing in a Direct Provision centre and supported by the Irish Refugee Council, challenged the system from several different angles. These included the lack of legislative basis for the system and for the weekly allowance of €19.10 per week; the violation of a range of human rights including the right to privacy and family life, the rights of children, and the rights to autonomy and freedom of movement and residence; the right to work; and the lack of access to social welfare rights.
On November 14th 2014, Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh delivered his decision. While finding unannounced room inspections, the monitoring of presence and absences and rules against guests in bedrooms were unlawful, the lack of oral evidence meant Mac Eochaidh found the challenge of a breach of human rights and the payment of the allowance was unsuccessful. The challenge to the rights of the child and the right to work were left outstanding. Many activists remain disappointed on some decisions within the case. Reacting to the ruling, Nasc, a Cork based NGO focused on migrant rights, CEO Fiona Finn, said they are “deeply disappointed.” However, the moment remains a watershed in Irish judicial history and the history of Direct Provision in Ireland. It enthralled the Irish public and raised awareness of what many claim is the Magdalene Laundries of our time. Yet, a recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll reveals 54 per cent of voters said asylum seekers should be kept under Direct Provision. A mere 31 per cent said they should be given refugee status and allowed to work and claim benefits. The polls show surprisingly, it is the 25 to 34 cohort closely followed by 18 to 24 year olds age group that are most hostile to abandoning the Direct Provision system.
On Friday 30th January 2015, Motley spoke with a resident of the Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre. The following investigation is based on her ten year experience, interviews with representatives from the Irish Refugee Council and NASC, with support from reports from the Reception and Integration Agency and the Free Legal Aid Clinic. The investigation aims to reveal the truth behind the closed doors of Direct Provision and allow readers to decide where their vote would lie.
Education of Children in Direct Provision
In 2012, the Irish Refugee Council released a report on Children in Direct Provision and found, at the time, that 1/3 of all asylum seekers living in Direct Provision in Ireland are children. This is approximately 2,000 people. Considering the time period in Direct Provision can range from less than one year to seven years, many children will go through the primary or secondary school system while residing in the centre. Children are encouraged to attend local schools but the aforementioned report found that it is difficult for parents to secure places in schools for their children. This alone raises issues of access to education for children in the system. However, access issues do not stop here.
As mentioned above, asylum seekers are prohibited from accessing social welfare. This includes Child Benefit, with children in the system only receiving a mere €38.40 compared to €135.00 per month for Irish citizens. However, Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BTSCFA), which is afforded to all Irish children in primary and second level schools, is given to the children in Direct Provision. This provides for school books, uniforms and basic materials. But at €100, is it enough? The report also found that issues of transport to and from the schools and space issues for homework/study is an issue in the centres. A resident in the centre told Motley that her children were lucky that they were not uprooted from their schools on a whim, but this is not the case for all parents.
“You have no control over your life. You can be in Cork today and Galway tomorrow. If they ask you, you have to move. They don’t take into consideration that you may have children who are settled in to their school. I have a friend whose child, between senior infants and second class, he has moved six times.” This places undue stress on both child and parent and adds to an already unstable living arrangement.
On a personal level, many parents in the centres recognise the importance of education.
“I push him in school. Because I know he is a migrant. Not even a migrant, because some migrants are lucky and they have their residency but he doesn’t even have that and that is against him. Because of that I want him to do well… It’s a barrier on him already and I want to do well. Sometimes I tell him to read and he says why do I have to read so much and I say because you have to… Sometimes I joke because I say then you are going to buy me the jeep that I’ll drive”
Education of Adults in Direct Provision
The basic right to further your education is non-existent for adults in Direct Provision. While residents are encouraged to attend daily classes, they remain repetitive, unstandardized and unregulated.
“The funny thing about the classes is that I’ve been here for ten years and every year we do the same course. I am a degree holder in my country. I hold a BSc in Business Management and Administration. Then to come and be made do a level three course… That is fine but then you have to repeat the course every year.”
The delivery of classes is encouraging but the provision of education in the centre clearly needs reform and resources. The Irish Prison Service states the Prison Education Service in Ireland prioritises; “literacy, numeracy and general basic education… and broad programmes of education are made available which generally follow an adult education approach. Programmes are adapted to take account of the diversity of the prisoner population and the complex nature of prison life. Junior and Leaving Certificate courses are available. FETAC accreditation is widely used with assessment by portfolio compilation.” In comparison, the Direct Provision education system is archaic. In the system, a resident claims; “you are not allowed to work. You are not allowed to further your education. You are controlled”.
Nutrition in Direct Provision
According to a 2009 Free Legal Advice Centre report, most asylum seekers are provided with full board accommodation. A 2007 Reception and Integration Agency report confirmed those living in the centres are not allowed cook food independently. This situation is one of the central concerns of asylum seekers in Direct Provision at the moment. RIA is aware of this, after surveying 604 cases stating this over seven years. The state ensures that three meals are provided every day but often the food does not meet dietary, religious or cultural needs. Quite simply, the system does not provide any flexibility. As well as this, there are concerns over nutritional value of food in the centres. The Irish Refugee Council maintains that many children suffer from chronic gastric illnesses and Motley heard directly that “Low iron is the one thing here that especially women, suffer from. And not because they’re pregnant.” This seems to be because of the low nutritional value of food provided.
In addition, parents and children appear to be suffering due to restrictive breastfeeding procedures in the centre. Parents are unable to independently decide when to wean their children completely to solid food. Those who choose not to, or cannot, breastfeed are provided with baby formula but only until the child’s first birthday when a letter of cessation is sent.
On December 9th, 2014, the Irish Times published an article titled, ‘How direct provision became a profitable business.’ The article confirms; “there are 17 firms which receive about €50 million a year to run 34 accommodation centres across the State, providing for about 4,000 asylum seekers. A glimpse inside their accounts show that many are highly profitable and have recorded six or even seven-figure pre-tax profits.” When business interests are placed over the welfare of the inhabitants, we have to ask does profit come before people? Nutrition may be the first aspect to suffer in this case.
On this note, in a statement, RIA claims; “RIA constantly engages with its contractors to ensure that value for money is being achieved and that the contractor is complying with standards of accommodation, bed-usage, health and safety etc, as set out in contracts and in other legal provisions.”
Health in Direct Provision
Figures recently released to Sinn Féin’s Michael Colreavy from 2002 to 2014, have revealed that sixty-one asylum seekers – including 16 young children – died while in Direct Provision. Ms. Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice, has replied saying one of the deaths was believed to have been a suicide in a hospital and three of the infant deaths were believed to be stillbirths. RIA stated that neither the HSE, coroners nor health care providers have ever indicated that the Direct Provision system played any part in the deaths of asylum seekers and that health services to asylum seekers are provided similarly to Irish citizens.
However, while the same services apply to the asylum seekers, the Department of Health & Children has no role in the management of the system. The environment they reside in also cannot be claimed to be a healthy one.
“The system alone is killing. I’ve seen a lot of people who come in here and they’re healthy. But over 60% of the people in direct provision centres are on medication”
Depression is a big factor. Asylum seekers as a group are a vulnerable people and the system does not seem to account for this.
“It is mental torture. It’s more mental than physical. And I’ll tell you the truth I think physical torture would be better for me. Because if you see me you will know I have a wound. But when its mental you will not know what people are going through.”
Suicide rates cannot be confirmed due to death certificates being inaccessible to RIA but Motley heard first-hand accounts of the effect of the system on people’s mental health.
“We had a case here; the man was so frustrated, so frustrated he tried to commit suicide… At the end of the day, you know what he said he said to them at the hospital, he wanted to go home and they said why do you want to go home, you came here. He said it’s better for him to go home and die at home. At least if he dies at home his family will see his body rather than him to die here.”
Lack of privacy is a significant issue. Single residents share a room with several other adults, and parents live in one room with their children. Facilities such as bathrooms are often shared.
Complaints Procedures in Direct Provision
To date, there was no independent complaints mechanism within Direct Provision. However, Mac Eochaidh stated in the above-mentioned case that it was not acceptable that RIA would be the final arbitrator in a dispute between the residents in their homes, and the commercial accommodation provider. This breaches the legal principle that nobody should be a judge in something that they have an interest in. The residents are entitled to an independent body. This process is ongoing.
Safety Procedures in Direct Provision
Independent Donegal TD Thomas Pringle stated in September 2014 that, “reports of prostitution and safety issues for children are nothing new for anyone who has worked in this area.” Motley has heard first-hand accounts of these aspects.
“We had a case where a child was molested… sexually molested and the only thing they did was transfer the guy that did it… And now they are so scared, you know children, they are told not to talk and they don’t and now we don’t know what happens. Most women that have children they are worried. Because if I go look for my daughter and I don’t see her I panic. Because you don’t know what is happening and you don’t know other people’s characters… and yet they are living with children. It’s a difficult thing for parents to be living among strangers you don’t even know. When you have your own home you can control that.
“When we talk about prostitution in Direct Provision… women begin to sleep around for money, it’s not like standing on the street but you see someone comes to take her. Even the Irish men they are used to this, at times they drive around here and they are waiting for women to come down to ask if you want to go with them. You wonder why? Women have responsibilities, they have children to take care of, and you have your own problems to take care of. It’s very difficult.”
RIA says house rules, such as random room searches and curfews, are designed for the safety and protection of residents. Many residents and campaigners feel as though these rules are a breach of human rights and from the above accounts we have to ask, if they are indeed providing a safe environment for these people to live in.
Right to Work in Direct Provision
Ireland’s policy on refugees and asylum seekers is governed by the Refugee Act 1996. Ireland also participates in all EU Directives on asylum except the ‘Reception Directive.’ The Reception Directive allows asylum seekers to access the labour market after six/nine months. In March 2013, Ireland also opted out of participating in legal revisions for the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) on this basis. Ireland is currently only one of two EU states that prohibits asylum seekers working. Giving these people the right to work would provide them with autonomy and dignity but that has been stripped from them.
“As an adult you have responsibilities. We are all supposed to have responsibilities. Even as a child, I know that my child loves when I give her responsibility and she is happy because she done it well. She has a sense of achievement. But, here adults lack responsibility. They have no sense of achievement. Nothing, they don’t have it.”
Although the Irish Human Rights Commission, the state body that is tasked with protecting human rights, urged the state to allow asylum seekers to seek work or access regular social welfare if in the country six months, Fitzgerald has ruled out providing employment rights. Fitzgerald did not give any justification to her decision and her colleague Aodhan O Riordain, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, supports extending employment rights after a period of time.
The Future of Direct Provision in Ireland
We have reached a crossroads on the legalities of asylum law in this country as well as a time when human rights activists have begun questioning our fragile system. Change appears to be on the horizon. Last year, President Higgins claimed the system was “totally unsatisfactory in almost every aspect,” a petition asking for the end of the system was presented to the Dáil with over 2,500 signatures and a case was brought to the High Court. However, the system very much remains in place with abolition or even reform low on the Dáil agenda. In the words of an asylum seeker; “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Sometimes I find it difficult to find the right words…. I could go on and on and on about Direct Provision. But really it is not a life you would even wish on your enemy.”
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