Relieving Responsibility: Direct Provision as Social Exclusion
Thornton argues that Ireland’s current accommodation regime indicates that the “asylum seeker is viewed as neither a citizen nor a warranted class of individual deserving of social rights on par with others in need” (2007,
86). For example, there are few opportunities for child asylum-seekers to interact with Irish citizens; accommodation centers are often located outside of city centers, while public transportation can be infrequent and unaffordable (Arnold 2012, 5). Although child asylum-seekers are permitted to attend Irish primary schools, their isolation amounts to a passive denial of their right to an education; these children’s social exclusion is intimately tied to their parents’ financial deprivation. This is because schools often are inaccessible without a car, or money to afford public transportation or to purchase textbooks and other materials. Even when children can attend local schools, direct provision centers often lack quiet study spaces for them to do their homework or study for exams (Ogbu et al. 2014, 259). While holding focus groups with children and parents living in direct provision centers in Western Ireland, Ogbu, Brady, and Kinlen found that children would either “sit on the floor or lie on the bed to do their homework and must try to concentrate [despite] noise[s] and distraction[s]” from others sharing the same limited space (Ibid.). These impediments may amount to a violation of Article 28 of the CRC, which articulates children’s rights to primary education (Breen 2008, 621).
The CRC requires state parties to ensure that education is offered to all children regardless of citizenship status, and that such education should be directed at “developing the child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential” (Arnold 2012, 26). Life in direct provision, however, is not conducive to these goals because it often prevents children from taking full advantage of the educational opportunities to which they are legally entitled. The lack of safe play areas, childcare facilities, and other resources in direct provision centers, as well as the lack of freedom to associate with children outside of them, violate Article 31 of the CRC, which concerns “the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child,” and the right of the child to join in a wide range of “cultural, artistic, and other recreational activities” (White 2012, 316). Although child asylum-seekers sometimes developed friendships with other children living in accommodation centers, these friendships often were disrupted because families were regularly moved to other accommodation centers throughout the country by immigration authorities (Arnold 2012, 26).
The psychological harms associated with living in direct provision are especially evident over time. After years of living in direct provision, adolescent and teenage asylum-seekers in the 2004 Fanning and Veale study discussed perceptions of having a “lesser status than other children in Irish society” (Fanning and Veale 2004, 246). The psychological effect of not knowing what the future holds (i.e., waiting for years without decisions on their asylum claims), and growing up feeling “insecure, nonassertive, and with an inferiority complex” caused stress for the children (Ogbu et al. 2014, 11). The ability to exercise personal autonomy in the forms of play, social interaction, and education was directly undermined by direct provision (Irish Human Rights Commission 2010, 15). As child asylum-seekers grow up within the confines of the accommodations provided, differences between them and their Irish friends at school become increasingly apparent (Ibid., 9). Children living in direct provision do not have a true home and cannot participate in “normal” activities (e.g., birthday parties, play dates, and sleepovers) in their accommodation centers (Ibid.).