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A stain on us all

Thursday, 27th July, 2017 9:39am

The system of direct provision for asylum seekers in Ireland has been in place for over seventeen years.

For those not familiar with the direct provision system, it consists of accommodation and board for those seeking protection in Ireland, but whose protection claims have yet to be fully determined by the State.

It can take many years before a full and fair determination of a person’s protection claim is finalised.

For the full duration of the claim, asylum seekers in Ireland are condemned to a life of communal living and communal eating, potentially sharing rooms with strangers, unable to cook, forced to live a part life, where the most intimate aspects of human personhood are restricted and debased for a prolonged period.

There is an absolute prohibition on claiming most social welfare payments, bar (from August 2017), a weekly allowance of €21.60 per week per adult and child.

Direct provision is a system of enforced dependency. It is a criminal offence, punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment if an asylum seeker works, or even attempts to seek employment.

This will change in the coming months, after the Irish Supreme Court stated that the absolute prohibition on seeking employment for asylum seekers, for an indeterminate period, offends against constitutional principles of equality and dignity.

The precise extent that the right to work for asylum seekers will be fully respected and protected, will depend on legal reforms that must be introduced by the Oireachtas in the coming months.

As of June 2017, there are 4,302 asylum seekers in the system of direct provision.

Over eight per cent, or 388 people have been in direct provision for over seven years. Just over 38 per cent of all people in direct provision centres have been there for two years or more.

This includes some of the 1,248 children who are forced to grow up in direct provision centres.

When first introduced in April 2000, the system of direct provision was supposed to be endured for no more than six months.

For over seventeen years, report after report, governmental and non-governmental has painted a bleak picture of the enforced dependency and denial of rights caused by direct provision.

The most recent report outlining the horrific nature of institutionalised living in the State, was conducted by UCC Child Law Clinic.

Based on direct consultations with children living in direct provision centres, a stark picture is painted on how Irish society treats a very vulnerable cohort of children in our society.

Children grow up without privacy, with whole families living their lives in one room.

Children are bullied in school when it becomes known that they live in direct provision.

Children felt that the food they received was of poor quality, and sometimes not enough food was provided. Some kids had never had a meal prepared by their parent.

Children in the UCC Child Law Clinic also spoke of feeling uncomfortable living in communal settings, with some feeling that they were being watched by male residents in direct provision accommodation centres.

The findings of these consultations are, unfortunately, in no way surprising. The political reaction, of feigned concern and handwringing, is precisely how all such reports have been greeted in the past.

Going back to a report published in 2001, Beyond the Pale, all the exact same issues were raised by children and their families who were living in direct provision.

The reaction of all governments since 2001 to various reports and concerns surrounding the system of direct provision has been telling.

It is a case of pretending that small changes in the system will allow it to be more bearable. The most vocal opponents of the system of direct provision in opposition, become its defenders in government.

The first government sanctioned review of the system, which led to the publication of a report on improvements to the system of direct provision in June 2015, proposed the most minimal of changes. However, even these minimal changes proved too much to be properly implemented.

All in all, the story of the system of direct provision for asylum seekers in Ireland is a depressingly familiar one.

The issue of direct provision has been debated and discussed ad nauseum in the Oireachtas, in newspapers, in blogs and on Twitter.

Yet, in over seventeen years of discussion and debate, and recognition of the significant harm that is visited upon asylum seekers within the system of direct provision, there appears no appetite for dealing head on with these harms.

In Ireland, we are so used to pretending that we do not know about significant violations of human rights. Society acts shocked by the inhuman and degrading manner that society treated women in the Magdelenes, mothers’ and baby homes, industrial schools etc.

Yet, the prevalence of these institutions within Irish society puts paid to some notion that society did not know.

The system of direct provision, although not fully comparable to Irish institutions of the past, remains a significant stain on our duty to respect and protect people who may be fleeing persecution.

The time for Irish society pretending that it does not know about the direct provision system needs to end.

The time for Irish politicians, and the Government, for making excuses for the inhuman treatment of asylum seekers needs to end.

The system of direct provision needs to end.

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