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Direct Provision in the Context of the EU and International Law

At the EU-level, member states adopted the Reception Conditions Directive, which sought to ensure that asylum-seekers within the EU have a “dignified standard of living for the duration of their asylum claim” (Thornton 2007, 87). The directive establishes limited and qualified rights of which the asylum applicant is guaranteed, including the right of minors to receive an education, the right of adult asylum-seekers to work after one year (if his or her application has not yet been adjudicated), the right to maintain family unity while living in state reception, and the right to basic healthcare and clean reception conditions, among other rights (Ibid.). Ireland, however, did not opt into this directive and is one of just five member states that do not provide tailored accommodations for asylum-seekers, including those with children (O’Carroll 2014). Moreover, all member states except Ireland and Lithuania allow asylum-seekers to work after a certain period of time spent in a reception system (Ibid.).

Ireland’s decision not to participate in the directive does not in and of itself mean that the its principles do not apply when determining the best reception conditions for child asylum-seekers; as an EU member, Ireland nevertheless is bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, with relevant articles referred to within the directive (Irish Refugee Council 2013, 12-13). Ireland is also a party to UN conventions impacting the rights of asylum-seekers and, in particular, children. First, Ireland acceded to the UN Refugee Convention in 1956 (UN Treaty Collection 2013). The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) notes that asylum-seekers should be able to fulfill their “basic support needs,” including “the maintenance of human dignity and self-sufficiency,” along with guarantees pertaining to family unity (Thornton 2007, 88). All of these requirements are reflected in the language of the directive.

Second, Ireland acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992 (UN Treaty Collection 2013). The CRC requires state parties to “respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind” (emphasis mine) (Arnold 2012, 13). Direct provision has been criticized by researchers, NGO personnel, migrant rights activists, and international reporting bodies for its perceived violation of Article 3 of the CRC, which requires that the best interests of the child, including child asylum-seekers, be a “primary consideration” (Ibid.). Direct provision also has been deemed a form of institutional discrimination because of the physical and social exclusion faced by children in accommodation centers (Ibid.), a topic that will be discussed later in the chapter.

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