No Date on the Door: Direct Provision Housing, Child Asylum-Seekers, and Ireland's Violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
While waiting for their asylum applications to be evaluated, the living arrangements for asylum-seekers in Ireland vary considerably: some are detained in prisons, some are held in direct provision (full-board) housing accommodations, and some are placed in alternative forms of housing with a requirement to periodically report to immigration officers (UNHCR 2013). Whereas prison detention often is used to house asylum-seekers considered at risk of absconding during the claims evaluation process, direct provision is intended for families and others deemed by immigration authorities as a “low security or flight risk” (Breen 2008, 611). Government contractors oversee direct provision centers, and the government’s Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) occasionally visits these sites to evaluate whether residents’ housing, meals, utilities, and other basic needs are being met adequately (Breen 2008, 611).
N. Luangrath (*)
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, Washington, DC, USA © The Author(s) 2016
M.O. Ensor, E.M. Gozdziak (eds.), Children and Forced Migration, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40691-6_14
Direct provision originally was introduced in 1999 as “emergency housing” to accommodate an unprecedented number of asylum-seekers in Ireland. Intended to be a cashless system, direct provision provides full-board accommodations for residents awaiting decisions on their asylum claims (Titley 2012). Housing sites usually are located in rural areas or otherwise far away from city centers. The majority of accommodations, including former hotels, hostels, boarding schools, trailer homes, and holiday homes, were co-opted as short-term living arrangements; they were not built to house asylum-seekers or other vulnerable migrant populations (Asylum Information Database 2016).
Although the RIA’s Child Protection Policy outlines procedures for direct provision staff to follow in the event of suspected abuse of child asylum-seekers in accommodation centers, direct provision is controversial and faces strong opposition from migrant rights groups (Department of Justice and Equality 2013). Upkeep of these facilities typically is poor, and the Irish Refugee Council repeatedly receives complaints from residents concerning the cleanliness and safety of their accommodations. Cases of children being injured by damaged property, crumbling ceilings, and faulty plumbing and electrical systems are particularly concerning (Christie 2003, 228). Additionally, while waiting for their claims to be evaluated, adult asylum-seekers are not permitted to work. The weekly cash allowance provided for residents is meager, and residents have reported difficulty purchasing culturally appropriate food, medication, toiletries, and other necessities not otherwise provided by the housing staff (Ibid., 230).
When direct provision was formally introduced in Ireland in April 2000, there were 394 people living in accommodation centers around the country (Thornton 2014b). Today, there are roughly 5000 people living in direct provision, a quarter of them children (Quinn 2016). Direct provision accommodations—some of them built as early as 1999—were intended only to house asylum applicants for up to six months. Yet, because of the number of applications waiting for processing, the average stay today is four to six years (Siggins 2013).
Given various concerns about asylum-seeker children’s health and safety, why is the system of direct provision still in place? If it originally was envisioned as a more “humane” system for families, which articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) does direct provision uphold, and to what extent does it do so effectively? Which articles does direct provision fail to uphold?
I argue that child asylum-seekers are dehumanized and designated as “the other,” while the government absolves itself of direct responsibility for their care by contracting with for-profit organizations to run the day- to-day operations in direct provision centers. Often, these private contractors do not possess the expertise to respond to the unique needs of child asylum-seekers and fail to promote practices consistent with Ireland’s responsibilities under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Additionally, the system of direct provision also allows the government to subvert criticism of its continued use of prison detention as “housing” for some asylum-seekers, because direct provision is promoted as a more “humane” alternative for children and families. RIA does not take responsibility for ensuring that basic safety and health standards are met, noting that such evaluations fall under the remit of their contractors, many of whom do not have experience working with vulnerable migrant populations or children (Quinn and Joyce 2014, 21). Throughout the course of this chapter, the government’s rationale for preserving direct provision is assessed, and it articulates why the accommodation system is violating the CRC, not upholding it. Finally, Section 8 contains recommendations for reforming Ireland’s asylum processes and policies.