Constructing Durable Policy Solutions for the Difficulties Faced by Child Asylum-Seekers
Policy recommendations to improve the livelihoods of asylum-seekers in any type of accommodation arrangement in Ireland must be designed with the long-term physical and psychological health of children in mind. In particular, the harmful effects of social exclusion should be studied further. Although this chapter focuses on the difficulties faced by child asylum-seekers in direct provision, it also is important that the government develop the policy solutions needed to address the hardship of parents because their financial and social deprivation directly impact their children. This section provides a nonexhaustive list of policy recommendations, some of which I drafted for the IHREC’s follow-up report to the Government of Ireland’s examination under the Convention Against Torture process and the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, and some of which I developed over the past four years as policies towards asylum-seekers have changed in Ireland and the EU. Assuming that the system of direct provision is not abolished or replaced, adopting these policy recommendations can be part of Ireland’s framework for improving the psychological and physical health of child asylum-seekers in accommodation centers.
The Government Should Adopt the EU’s 2013 Recast Reception Conditions Directive and Implement a Single Protection Procedure to Decrease Application Processing Time for Asylum-Seekers
As part of a common EU asylum system, the Recast Reception Conditions Directive established basic living standards for asylum-seeker accommodations, a timeline for allowing asylum-seekers to access the host country’s labor market, and guidelines for identifying particularly vulnerable asylum-seekers (e.g., unaccompanied minors). The directive establishes that asylum-seekers should have access to adequate housing, healthcare, and employment (Shannon 2014, 62). Ireland must bring its asylum and refugee policies in-line with EU standards. To address the significant delays in processing asylum claims—and the resulting lengthy stays in direct provision for child asylum-seekers and their par- ents—Ireland should introduce a “single protection procedure,” which would ensure more comprehensive access to all forms of international protection and decrease current delays in processing new applications (UNHCR 2011).
Using a single protection procedure would give officials the legal power to ask both “refugee-related” questions (relating to the persecution of the individual) at the same time as “protection-related” questions (relating to the general conditions in the applicant’s home country). The significant delays faced by asylum-seekers and their children compound the trauma many of them have already suffered in the countries from which they fled. With separate applications for three different available forms of protection (i.e., refugee protection, subsid?iary protection, and humanitarian “leave to remain”), the Irish asylum system is needlessly elongated (Thornton 2014b). Therefore, it is recommended that all aspects of an individual’s claims be heard and determined within a single process to ensure that the applicant is not subject to undue delay in his or her claim determination (Irish Human Rights Commission 2014, 59).
Furthermore, some people seek protection in Ireland because of “nonpersecutory” threats, including generalized or indiscriminate violence in their home countries. Although this population would not be considered refugees under the narrow UN Refugee Convention definition, they are eligible for subsidiary protection status in Ireland and in other EU countries (Thornton 2014b). Many asylum-seekers and their children arriving from Iraq, Sudan, Syria, and Somalia, where generalized violence regularly has led to forced displacement, must wait for years in direct provision housing in order for the authorities to reevaluate their applications for subsidiary protection or “leave to remain” (UNHCR 2011; Mac Cormaic 2016).
Unfortunately, with Ireland’s current application evaluation system, only the individual persecution aspect is examined during the initial interview and application process; applications for the other two forms of protection are dealt with consecutively (Irish Human Rights Commission 2014, 58). Thus, people arriving in Ireland after fleeing indiscriminate or other “non-persecutory” threats must first wait until after they have been denied asylum through traditional refugee status determination (RSD) procedures and given a deportation notification; only then can they have their non-persecutory protection claims examined for subsidiary protection (UNHCR 2011). The absence of a single protection procedure delays not only the adjudication of protection claims but also undermines claimants’ abilities to properly engage with the application process. As months or years pass, applicants may have difficulty recalling specific details during their asylum interviews related to past persecution or other harm (Thornton 2014a, 69).
Since performing the research in Ireland and writing IHREC policy recommendations for the Irish Government, there have been some important developments. The International Protection Act (2015), which will introduce a single protection procedure for all applicants for inter?national protection, was passed by the Oireachtas in late 2015 and goes into effect in 2016 (European Council on Refugees and Exiles 2016). Although the legislation will not end or change the direct provision system, it ultimately could reduce the amount of time applicants spend in accommodation centers. Nonetheless, Migrant Rights Ireland and the Irish Refugee Council are concerned that new, “accelerated” asylum application evaluations will be used to quickly deny migrants in need of protection, especially in response to the current refugee crisis in Europe (Ibid.). Moreover, the Act fails to compel authorities to consider “the best interests of the child” when evaluating claims and arranging housing for child asylum-seekers (Ibid.).
Incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Irish Law
It is the duty of CRC state parties to ensure “the equal rights of children to social security, health care, and education,” while allowing “no distinction between children who are citizens, and those, such as asylum seekers, who are non-citizens” (Fanning and Veale 2004, 248). Ireland ratified the CRC in 1991 but did not incorporate it into domestic law, thus rendering it unenforceable (Arnold 2012, 5). The government noted that although the CRC had “not been formally incorporated into Irish law, both the spirit and aims of the Convention are significantly reflected in Irish public policy and Irish law is in conformity with the Convention” (UN Human Rights Council 2011, 3). I argue, however, that in order to fully protect the rights of child asylum-seekers and provide them legal recourse to file complaints, the government should take immediate steps to incorporate the CRC into domestic law. The Convention on the Rights of the Child incorporation is an a priori issue when developing durable solutions to improve the livelihood of child asylum-seekers; their protection is unlikely to be ensured without incorporation of the CRC into Ireland’s legal framework.
Establish an Independent Complaints Mechanism and Extend the Remit of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children to Include Investigation of Complaints Relating to Asylum Processes and Child Asylum-Seekers
Child asylum-seekers are excluded from the remit of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children, a stance incompatible with the principle of nondiscrimination under Irish law (Irish Human Rights Commission 2013, 63). Although Reception and Integration Agency oversight is intended to protect children from sexual exploitation and other harm, the RIA cannot be an objective arbiter in such cases. The current complaints mechanism within direct provision lacks the independence necessary to ensure that cases get handled impartially. Moreover, it is too limited in its scope to deal with alleged breaches of human rights that may arise in direct provision centers (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission 2014, 13). In addition, families often hesitate to report physical abuse, verbal aggression, and other problems to the RIA because they fear possible repercussions on their asylum applications (Irish Human Rights Commission 2010, 28).
Establish Greater Intersectoral Collaboration
and Communication Between Policymakers, Service Planners,
Service Providers, and Community-Based Organizations
The lack of social workers and healthcare providers assisting child asylum- seekers is indicative of Ireland’s failure to act in the best interests of these children (Christie 2010, 15). Greater intersectoral collaboration between policymakers, service providers, and community-based immigrant assistance organizations is needed; if the government does not abolish or reform direct provision, then its effects must be considered vis-a-vis the unique needs of child asylum-seekers. Dialogue at an intersectoral level should lead to more formal collaboration between statutory and nonstatutory agencies, including Ireland’s health services.
Promising examples of intersectoral collaboration are the asylum- seeker accommodation centers in Lisbon, Portugal, which are run by the Portuguese Refugee Council (an operational partner of UNHCR) and the Jesuit Refugee Service; they are staffed by professionals with qualifications in social work and vocational support (International Catholic Migration Commission 2013, 232; Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission 2014, 58). Staff encourage children to interact with the Portuguese population by providing on-site facilities (e.g., a kindergarten, library, and theater space) that are used by child asylum-seekers and local Portuguese families alike (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission 2014, 59). In addition, the accommodation centers also have language classes and vocational support for all residents (Ibid.).
Because both countries have relatively small asylum-seeker populations compared to the rest of the EU countries, Ireland could look to Portugal to gain insight on how to better integrate asylum-seekers into the local community, while ensuring that they have autonomy over everyday matters (e.g., food preparation and living arrangements) (Ibid.). Additionally, on-site legal advice is provided by qualified lawyers specializing in asylum and international protection, a critical service for asylum-seekers (Irish Refugee Council 2013, 29). A “one-stop shop” model, similar to Lisbon’s, reduces stress for asylum-seekers and makes them more likely to engage in the legal processes of the host country (Ibid.). Moreover, because reception centers in Lisbon are run by nonprofits that traditionally work with asylum-seekers, refugees, and other vulnerable migrants, they can cater to the unique needs of these populations better than the private entities that manage the day-to-day operations of direct provision centers in Ireland.
In-Line with the EU Reception Conditions Directive and Recast Directive Requirements, the Government of Ireland Should Establish a Legal Right to Work After a Period of Six to Nine
Months and Provide Options for Young Adult (18+) Asylum- Seekers to Continue Their Education
While at the IHREC, I echoed recommendations by the Irish Refugee Council to establish a legal right to work for asylum-seekers over 18 years of age. Since my initial research in 2012, the government has taken small steps towards aligning Ireland’s policies with the rest of the EU. Aodhan О Riordain, Ireland’s Minister of State for New Communities, Culture, Equality and Drug Strategy, noted that the current ban on work for adult asylum-seekers is being reviewed by a newly created Working Group on direct provision (O’Shea 2014). Although the system would remain, the Minister hopes to better align Irish asylum policy with the rest of the EU’s, allowing asylum-seekers to work after “a certain period of time” (yet to be specified) in direct provision (Ibid.). However, the aforementioned 2015 International Protection Act does not include the right to work, despite numerous such recommendations from migrant rights groups in Ireland (Quinn 2016).
The government should acknowledge that employment is not only important for adult asylum-seekers struggling to feed their children; work can empower them and facilitate their integration into Irish society (Thornton 2014c, 31). After six to nine months, adult asylum-seekers should be given the option to leave direct provision, live independently, and seek employment (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission 2014, 18). Young adult residents 18 and older should be given the option of receiving vocational training or other education in preparation for seeking employment (Ibid.).