Hundreds of children still spend their childhoods living in residential institutions in Ireland

Sat, May 19, 2012

Government asked to reform the system known as Direct provision

A recent parliamentary question, asked by Aengus Ó Snodaigh at Nasc’s request, revealed that a startling number of applicants for international protection in Ireland, approximately a third of whom are children, continue to live in residential institutions on a long-term basis. Some 1,339 people have lived in residential institutions known as “direct provision centres” for five years and more.

On May 2 2012, representatives from Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council, together with four long-term residents of residential institutions in Ireland, called for the introduction of an alternative to the system known as “direct provision” during the lifetime of the new coalition government. In the meantime, the organisations have called for the immediate and urgent introduction of an independent complaints mechanism for the residents of direct provision, as an interim measure to ensure that the state does not continue to breach its duty of care to vulnerable residents. Representatives from Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council, together with four long-term residents of residential institutions in Ireland, visited Dáil Éireann to brief TDs about the conditions in which asylum seekers and their children are forced to live, often on a long-term basis. The asylum seekers who spoke at the event in Leinster House prefer to remain anonymous, due to fears that speaking out about the system might jeopardise their safety. The speakers shared their concerns about the lack of independent monitoring of the hostels and about the lack of an independent complaints mechanism for residents.

“We don’t have a voice,” said Jonathan (not his real name), “If only there was someone we could approach.” Jonathan complained to the manager of the hostel where he lives when only chips and ketchup were served for dinner on Good Friday. He received a letter from the agency that is charged with managing the institutions (the Reception and Integration Agency) the following Tuesday, stating that they had been informed that he had been causing difficulty for the management, and that they would have to transfer him to another hostel if the situation continued. He would have no choice about where in Ireland he would be transferred to. He did not press the issue further.

Another resident said, “Most people know that when the staff threaten to report you to the Minister for Justice, so that you won’t get asylum, it’s an empty threat. Still, the local Gardaí are called by management whenever disagreement arises. People retreat and shut up when faced with these threats and tactics – even if their concerns are serious.”

When asked what the complaints were typically about, one resident explained that he lives in a centre in which some forty people, including children, share one toilet between them. Another spoke about poor diet: “We never see a salad,” he said. “We know that inspections are due when we see staff cleaning late into the night, and we get the best meal we’ve had in years!”

One of the speakers, who worked as a journalist in his country of origin, has lived in various residential institutions for six years. “It’s like living in hell at this stage,” he said. “You get affected. You can’t think or sleep… you go mad. Now I depend on tablets. I feel every day I am losing my brain. What I used to do, I can’t do it any more. That’s what happens when you’re kept inactive and you’re not allowed to work or even to try to improve yourself. I feel like my life will never have a meaning any more. I used to be so positive…now I think about what I left coming here, to be in a safe place. I will never be like that any more.”

Read more about the campaigning alliance the NGO Forum on Direct Provision, and about how you can support the urgent calls for change here.