My entry point into the issue of direct provision is from a children’s rights perspective. This perspective has been informed by my work on related issues as the former Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance; the recommendations of the Government appointed Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon; the concerns raised by advocacy groups; and my own recent visits to two direct provision asylum accommodation centres as an independent member of Seanad Éireann.
It has taken me a long time to wade through the mire that is the political discourse on direct provision. It has been difficult to establish which features of the system belong to the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs or indeed the Department of Social Protection. I have struggled to understand the distinction drawn between children “cared for by the State”, as is used to describe children in direct provision, and children “in the care of the State”. I have argued strenuously that firstly, children are children irrespective of status and secondly, that it is a stretch in credulity to claim that children in direct provision are in the care of their parents in circumstances where the parents’ autonomy to make even basic decisions about their children’s care, for example what and when to eat, is so limited as to render it absent.
My overwhelming concern is that the administrative system of direct provision, which has been operating in Ireland since April 2000, is detrimental to the welfare and development of asylum seekers, and in particular the 1,808 children currently residing in direct provision accommodation centres throughout Ireland . There are a plethora of difficulties, many of which I have raised under Adjournments of the Seanad including: the dubious legality of the direct provision system; the lack of an independent complaints mechanism for residents; the absence of independent inspections of direct provision centres where children reside; the decision by Ireland to opt-out of the EU Directive to allow asylum seekers to enter the work force if their application has not been processed after one year; the fact that there are no prospects for post-secondary education for young asylum seekers, which is like hitting a pause button for an uncertain and doubtlessly lengthy period of time; the fettering and erosion of normal family dynamics and functioning; and the lack of autonomous decision making.
But, the ultimate failing of direct provision is the length of time asylum seekers remain in the system waiting for their claims to be processed. It is important to remember that when first introduced 13 years ago, direct provision was viewed as a time limited system that would be for a maximum of six months. If this was the case, I could tolerate the inadequacies that would present in that time period rather than the outright failings that present in this system where the average length of stay is 4 years and a significant number have remained in the system for between 5-10 years.
And so, the long term solution has got to be a streamlined status determination system that will deliver a speedy, and robust, yet fair and transparent process. I hope this will be delivered through the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill, which the Minister for Justice has committed to re-publish in revised form, but which ultimately been 8 years coming down the track.
In the interim, I call on the Government to take the following steps: conduct an examination to establish whether the system of direct provision itself is detrimental to the welfare and development of asylum seekers, in particular children, and whether, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation could be adopted which is more suitable for families and children; to establish an independent complaints mechanism; and to commence independent inspections of direct provision centres where children reside.
1Reception and Integration Agency, Monthly Status Report, February 2013: http://www.ria.gov.ie/en/RIA/RIAFeb(A4)2013.pdf/Files/RIAFeb(A4)2013.pdf