Event to Discuss Family Life in Direct Provision

Report on IRC and Doras Luimni Limerick event 20/11/12

 The Irish Refugee Council and Doras Luimni held an event on the Universal Children’s Day, 20th of November 2012, in Limerick County Hall. A replica of a typical room in Direct Provision was set up in the County Hall (image below). This room is where families in the asylum system usually spend their time, often for a number of years. Lack of space and privacy are two of the main issues residents have in Direct Provision accommodation centres, with many families not just sleeping in their rooms but doing homework with their children, playing games, watching television, eating and doing other family activities.

Image of a typical room in Direct Provision

Speakers:

  • Senator Jillian Van Turnhout, Leader of the Independent Group
  • Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance
  • Samantha Arnold, Children’s and Young Persons’ Officer, Irish Refugee Council
  • Katie Robinson, Course Director/Lecturer MSc Occupational Therapy, University of Limerick
  • Okeremute Okeregha, works with Doras Luimni

The event was launched with a quote from Kofi Anann, Secretary-General of the United Nations about children being ‘universally cherished’. In Ireland, one third of the 6,000 asylum seekers living here are children. Senator Jillian Van Turnhout, leader of the Independent Group, spoke about the negative impact of Direct Provision for children. She spoke about the Ryan report and how in 20 years’ time children in Direct Provision will be looked at with equally as much outrage. The room in the County Hall was used as a very real example of the accommodation people are expected to live in for a number of years, not just for sleeping, but to live in where all family activities take place. Senator Van Turnout expressed how families are undermined in the centres, with meals being set at the exact same time every day of the year.  The issue of having no autonomy by having the right to work was discussed for parents in the system. Parents are not able to fulfil their role as providers for their children as they are not entitled to earn a living. This essentially means children are in the care of the State. The Senator spoke of families she knew who packed their bags every night just in case they had to leave. She also mentioned the case of a 14 year old girl in a centre in Mayo who became pregnant by a male resident at the same centre. The final words of her speech were that all children in Ireland should be protected and she is pursuing for independent inspections in the accommodation centres from a child protection angle and also planning to visit a centre in Athlone and Hatch Street, Dublin in the coming months.

The second speaker was Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance. She reminded us that the 20th of November was Universal Children’s Day and that children in Direct Provision are one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in Ireland.  The United Nations Convention that outlines the principle of non-discrimination was discussed and how children of asylum seeking parents are clearly discriminated against. Tanya explained how accommodation owners are given a contract to house asylum seekers under the system of Direct Provision, however there are not enough child protection questions asked before the contract is given. Guarda vetting is not strictly enforced, which seems ridiculous as this should be one of the most important rules when working with families and children. The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) contracts with accommodation centres should have specific requirements such as adequate play facilities and homework spaces because children don’t just need accommodation, they need development. The subject of child benefit was discussed. It was cut to deter people from applying for asylum in Ireland but Tanya joked about €140 a month not going very far. People living in Direct Provision are often afraid to complain about the conditions they are living in as it may cause problems for them. As a result, we don’t hear the voices of asylum seeking children. Again, the subject of the State caring for these children was brought up, with parents being basic caregivers, while the state has more control over their lives. This is what people feared about the recent children’s referendum, it is actually happening in Direct Provision. Tanya recommended that NGO and council members need to call on the Ombudsman for children, Emily Logan.

Samantha Arnold, Children’s and Young Persons’ Officer, Irish Refugee Council, spoke about her recent report: ‘State Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion: The case of children in state accommodation for asylum seekers’. Samantha spoke about Direct Provision as a very restrictive setting to raise a family in. People who have fled their home country are seeking a better life, not a better income, which is what some taxpayers believe which creates a negative attitude towards asylum seekers. However, Samantha mentions that if a case is not a priority in the high court, people can wait up to two years, which is the real waste of taxpayer’s money. A stressor for families is not knowing where their child is going to grow up; if they will complete their education in Ireland or will they be sent back home to start over. She went on to describe how the effect of Direct Provision on families is profound and how the UNCRC has no weight in court. The two persisting issues she has found are

1)      The length of time it takes for the asylum decision to be made, and

2)      The quality of the accommodation people are subject to stay in

Samantha concluded by talking about the long term effects of Direct Provision on children and their families.

For further information read ‘State sanctioned child poverty and exclusion’.

Katie Robinson, Course Director and Lecturer in MSc Occupational Therapy, University of Limerick spoke about children growing up in Direct Provision from an occupational therapy perspective. Katie discussed child development through types of play and the kinds of restrictions children face when living in accommodation centres, such as mealtimes not being about just food but family time and transmission of culture. She spoke about post migration problems for families:

  • Length of asylum process
  • Asylum process stress
  • Discrimination
  • Family separation
  • Socioeconomic living situation
  • Lack of work

The final speaker was Okeremute Okeregha, who works for Doras Luimni and spoke about their services. Doras Luimni work to promote and protect the rights of all migrants. They have a legal service, an advice and information centre, women’s development group, book club, English classes and computer classes.

For more information please visit the Doras Luimni website