Assessment of the Government's Position in Light of Criticisms of Direct Provision
The Convention on the Rights of the Child standards demand a holistic understanding of “appropriate” living arrangements for children, and Ireland’s current approach to meeting child asylum-seekers’ rights to adequate housing, food, education, and healthcare is severely lacking (Breen 2008, 625). Although the Government argues that direct provision is safer for children than prison detention, the inhumane conditions in which asylum-seeker families are housed warrant a reassessment of Ireland’s standards. Direct provision is arguably a modified prison system, and the intellectual and social development of children is hindered by their lack of access to primary education and language classes (Christie 2003, 228).
Certainly, it could be argued that keeping children with their parents (per Article 9) and not in detention (per Article 37) is a positive step (White 2012, 323). Moreover, given the diversity of the asylum-seeker population in direct provision, children’s familial networks and friendships may be reproduced through relations with other asylum-seekers from various countries. Concepts, such as “social participation” and “social exclusion,” should not be assessed as a zero-sum equation; the ability of children to achieve some level of enrichment through social interaction with other children living in direct provision may allow for a more nuanced understanding of the intersections between social participation, exclusion, and inclusion in direct provision.
In his case study of an accommodation center in Glengarry, Allen White finds that children often developed strong relationships with each other within direct provision centers. White notes that viewing Glengarry and other centers simply as places where children live disconnected lives from their local communities neglects ways in which “the spaces, routines, and daily interactions [in direct provision] offered children tangible opportunities for developing and cultivating important and significant peer friendships” across national, ethnic, and cultural lines (White 2012, 319). Additionally, White and Bushin critique the portrayal of asylum-seeker children as passive figures and argue that “adult-centric” theories on migrant protection deny these children’s agency (2011, 326).
I recognize the value of the White and Bushin nuanced contribution to better understanding children’s lives in direct provision. Nevertheless, child asylum-seekers’ physical segregation from Irish citizens and the passive denial of their rights to education, adequate food, and recreation illustrate that they are never truly humanized by the state. Even though the CRC emphasizes the individual rights of children and implicitly acknowledges a certain degree of autonomy in children, it also recognizes the need to critically analyze the systems within which these children develop (Fanning and Veale 2004, 249). In line with Article 18 of the CRC, Ireland’s 2001 National Children’s Strategy acknowledges the importance of the “family, community, and wider society” and the child’s relationship with all three (my emphasis) (Ibid.). Moreover, as direct provision residents, children’s restricted freedoms undermine their access to the resources needed to articulate their own agency (White 2012, 315).
Although the applicants were ultimately unsuccessful, perhaps the clearest legal condemnation of direct provision came in the form of an asylum claim made by non-Sudanese Darfuri asylum-seekers in Northern
Ireland. In the Matter of an Application for Judicial Review by ALJ and Others of the High Court of Northern Ireland, the applicants originally claimed refugee status in Ireland but were rejected (Thornton 2014c, 31). In July 2011, when the applicants entered Northern Ireland and applied for asylum, the UK Border Agency sought to return them to the Republic of Ireland under the Dublin Regulation. The applicants then challenged the ruling in the Northern Ireland High Court, stating that a return to Ireland and to direct provision would constitute “inhuman and degrading treatment” and “violate [their] rights to private and family life,” rights protected under the European Charter for Fundamental Rights (EUCFR) (Ibid.). The judge presiding over the case concluded that direct provision was indeed “contrary to the best interests of the child” (Shannon 2014, 58). In addition to being forced to live in direct provision, the judge agreed that the children would suffer “material deprivation from restrictions placed on their parents regarding work and social welfare receipt” (Ibid.).