Direct Division: The views and experiences of children living in Direct Provision accommodation
Direct Division: children’s views and experiences of living in Direct Provision accommodation was published in July 2020.
Between June and November 2019 we undertook a consultation with 73 children aged between 12 and 17 years in nine Direct Provision centres around Ireland. Using focus groups, interviews and two away days that allowed the children to work on creative expressions of their life in Ireland, the consultation explored the children’s views on the achievement of their rights, their experiences of inclusion and exclusion in school, the local community and wider Irish society. Direct Division includes a review, from a children’s rights perspective, of relevant national and international policy and priorities for action by the Irish government.
Within their accommodation centres, children cited lack of space and privacy as problems. Their sense of isolation was exacerbated by poor transport, which prevented them from taking part in afterschool or community based activities. Difficulty in asking for lifts was often linked by the children to their sense of stigma and fear of being judged about where they live.
Many of the children felt discriminated against in school and reported experiences of racist slurs such as the “N Word” and taunts of being terrorists if identified as being of the Muslim faith. There were reports of bullying related to race, religion and nationality in school. Teachers were often seen by the children as not standing up for them when their peers were expressly or covertly racist or sectarian. Children also reported that some teachers expressed racist or discriminatory sentiments themselves, or were covertly racist. Teachers were reported as knowing little about what it meant to be an asylum seeker or what living in Direct Provision accommodation is like and the restrictions it placed on the children.
Some children also experienced discrimination in their local communities, feeling that the colour of their skin was how many Irish people judged them. These children wanted Irish people and communities to know about the hurt, pain and terror they experienced in their home countries so they would understand why they are seeking protection here.
Playing sports at school or representing their school in events like fashion shows, musicals and debating team helped some children to feel included. Where schools took steps to respect the children’s religion and culture, this was very much appreciated. This includes schools which permit the wearing of the hijab, provide prayer rooms, provide Halal food and hold international and multi-cultural days.
Many of the children wrote about loving Ireland, of feeling safe here, of being grateful for the protection they have received. Others, however, wrote challenging messages, asking to be treated as a person and not a colour, and seeking greater understanding.
The children made many suggestions for changes. Most prevalent among these were a faster process for determining their immigration status and action to counteract and stamp out racism. While living in Direct Provision accommodation, almost all of the children wanted more living space, more privacy and greater access to transport. Many wanted an end to centre-based, communal accommodation and a move to own door housing in the wider community. However, many of the changes sought were smaller and simpler. These included footpaths from the centre to the local town and more information about community events that they could get involved in.
- Address delays in the asylum process, taking specific account of the experiences of children.
- Accommodation for people seeking international protection should fully reflect the provisions of the EU Recast Directive in terms of standards. Independent inspections should be carried out.
- Additional English as an Additional Language (EAL) teachers are needed. Make IT and internet resources available in every accommodation centre. Ensure access to the Pilot Free Fees Initiative.
- Deliver training and information to teachers, principals and Boards of Management. Consider more central location for future accommodation centres. Provide recreational in all Direct Provision centres.
Direct Division was launched online and a number of the children who contributed attended this virtual event. This launch included a short film of interviews that the children gave during our consultation. This film, as well as the full report and the children’s art are available on the OCO website.
Read the full Direct Division: Living in Direct Provision Report
Direct Division: Life in Lockdown
When the Covid-19 restrictions were imposed in March 2020, there were 2,400 children seeking international protection in Ireland and living in Direct Provision or emergency accommodation. During August 2020 we spoke to a small number of the children who had participated in our earlier consultation to find out what life in lockdown was like for them.
The children shared many of the concerns and anxieties of many children in Ireland, including that they were falling behind in school, fears over returning to school and being exposed to the virus, anxiety that their families would become ill with the virus, isolation and boredom, lack of areas to play and socialise in, as well as a lack of, or confusing information, about Covid-19.
The boredom, loneliness and frustration felt by most people during the lockdown was magnified for children living in Direct Provision accommodation by the fact that they had to stay indoors, often in one small room or living space, with their whole families for months. According to the children their right to education was most affected by the lockdown. All of the children we spoke to expressed difficulty with keeping up with school due to a lack of support services, digital poverty and language barriers.
The camaraderie among children living in Direct Provision, the support they provide each other and the bonds they form often combat their general social isolation. However, these relationships were challenged during lockdown as outbreaks in centres occurred. With families being removed from centres to self-isolate elsewhere, fear grew among residents and this lead to children reporting stigmatisation and isolation from their peers on their return to their centre.
The Covid 19 pandemic and first lockdown amplified the isolation, exclusion and marginalisation of these children who were already living, in many cases, on the fringes of Irish society and brought many of the shortcomings of the Direct Provision system into sharp relief.
Our report Direct Division: Life in Lockdown can be accessed on our website.
Read the full Direct Division: Life in Lockdown Report
Unmet Needs: A Report on the Challenges Faced by Children in Ireland Who Require an Assessment of Their Needs
For many years the OCO has been receiving complaints about access to an Assessment of Needs (AON) and the recommended services for children with disabilities. We are very concerned about the serious negative impact that the AON system has been having on children’s health and wellbeing as well as their future development. In 2020 we published Unmet Needs, an examination of AON from a children’s rights perspective.
- The Disability Act 2005 needs to be reviewed to ensure that provisions made which affect children are rightsbased, child-centred and aligned with Ireland’s international human rights obligations under the UNCRC and the UNCRPD.
- Coordination between relevant Government departments, State agencies and service providers needs to be strengthened to provide a clear, coherent approach to assessment and intervention for children with disabilities.
- Adequate financial, technical, and human resources must be provided on a sustained basis to ensure that assessments and interventions are provided in a timely manner.
- The State needs to ensure that a functional and accessible complaints mechanism is in place for children to seek and obtain effective and timely remedies.
- In the interests of supporting effective planning, the HSE should collect and create a central database of AON data, which is accessible to all therapists, clinicians and administrators involved in the AON process and which allows access to information on a real-time basis in relation to the waiting times for appointments and the availability of services detailed in the Service Statement. Statistics in relation to the commencement and completion of assessments, and the finalisation of Service Statements, should be published in the quarterly reports along with targeted solutions for any shortcomings.
- The HSE needs to improve its communication and engagement with children and families.
- Following publication of Unmet Needs we were invited to meet with the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth on 1 December 2020. We welcome the Committee’s decision to examine issues raised through our Unmet Needs report in detail with key stakeholders, including the Minister of State with responsibility for Disability and the HSE.
Read the full Unmet Needs report
Pathways to Irish Citizenship: Separated, Stateless, Asylum Seeking and Undocumented Children
Through the OCO’s work in participation and rights education, the issue of nationality and identity is often raised by children and their families. In the work that we do with children all over Ireland, particularly those living in Direct Provision, this is a very real issue and one we decided to explore further through research.
Under the UNCRC every child has the right to acquire a nationality. In Ireland, as in many other countries, this is inextricably linked with acquiring citizenship. Many non-national children in Ireland and their parents wish to acquire Irish nationality and citizenship. However, for many of the most vulnerable children, acquiring citizenship through the naturalisation process is far from straightforward. These include separated children seeking asylum, stateless children, children who have come through the asylum process and undocumented children.
In seeking to understand the ways in which these children can acquire Irish citizenship and their needs, we commissioned Dr Samantha Arnold to undertake research into the avenues available for accessing citizenship in Ireland for non-EEA children and to share with us some of the changes that she believes would help improve non-national children’s access to Irish citizenship. In doing so we hoped to learn more about the current position and to inform our engagement with the children affected by these issues, as well as our contribution to policy and legislative debates. What this research clearly highlights is that, for these vulnerable groups of children and their families, the path to Irish citizenship and the rights and entitlements this gives them is long, complex and expensive. Dr Arnold points to a number of issues that, in her view, require attention including the delays that often occur in these processes, the lack of clarity that exists between relevant agencies, the absence of a clear and formal process for stateless adults and children, the need for greater attention to be paid to the specific vulnerabilities and needs of children, and the limits on the legal aid available to applicants.
While many of the tangible benefits of having Irish citizenship arise when children reach adulthood (e.g. ability to vote in General Elections, eligibility for some Government jobs), a grant of Irish citizenship, in particular for undocumented children, means some additional freedoms and rights, such as greater access to family reunification in some cases, freedom to travel within the EU and overseas including with family or indeed foster families, and, generally speaking, protection against deportation. Importantly, however, citizenship brings with it intangible benefits. These include a sense of belonging, stability and security that many of the children with whom this research is concerned have not had for long periods of time. While allowing for proper checks to be undertaken by the national authorities, affording children this security is sufficient reason to consider how we make pathways to citizenship for them as accessible and transparent as possible.
Dr Arnolds report, Pathways to Irish Citizenship Separated, Stateless, Asylum Seeking and Undocumented Children, was launched by the office in June 2020 and is available on the OCO website.
Read the full Pathways to Irish Citizenship report