Of the 5,098 residents in State accommodation for people seeking asylum – known as Direct Provision - over one third,
or 1,789, are children. With the length of time in the asylum process ranging from less than a year to more than seven years, these children spend a significant proportion of their childhood in Direct Provision accommodation. Children living in these centres are not necessarily applying for asylum themselves, but are the children of asylum-seekers and may have been born and lived their whole livesin Ireland. Regardless of their or their families’ status, these children did not choose to come to Ireland and they have no control over their circumstances.

All children need to be raised in an atmosphere where care providers offer emotional protection and support. In addition to a loving family life, children need stimulation, encouragement, instruction, rules and limitations. Moreover, care providers must be able to lead by example through their behaviour, exhibition of values and religious and cultural practices. Parents in Direct Provision are unable to care for or govern the rules and customs of their family and the upbringing of their children due to the restrictions of living in centres.

Direct Provision is an unnatural family environment that is not conducive to positive development in children. The key themes identified by previous reports, media and complaints regarding the system of Direct Provision relate to concerns over the safety and overcrowding of the physical environment, family life, social exclusion, barriers to accessing and participating in education, diet and access to play space. Children in Direct Provision are often alienated as a result of enforced poverty and social exclusion.

Aside from the negative impact on child development, there are significant protection concerns. In his 2012 report, Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Children, highlighted the ‘real risk’ of child abuse in Direct Provision where single parent families are required to share with strangers and where families with teenage children of opposite gender are required to share one room. The Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports exposed a dark past that carried over into recent Irish history. The laundries, the institutions and the reform schools painted a bleak picture of the way Ireland valued her children. For example, parents cannot prepare meals for their children and have no control over meal times.

For more than a decade, agencies, organisations, advocates, ordinary citizens and asylum-seekers have tried to bring focus to the government’s treatment of children in Direct Provision accommodation as well. The Children’s First Guidance, which was introduced to halt and prevent future abuse of children, state: ‘The threshold of significant harm is reached when the child’s needs are neglected to the extent that his or her well-being and/or development are severely affected’. 

Direct Provision is an example of a government policy which has not only bred discrimination, social exclusion, enforced poverty and neglect, but has placed children at a real risk. It is unlikely that an official inquiry into the treatment of asylum-seeker’s children in Direct Provision accommodation would be instigated due to a simple lack of political will. However, the question remains: does the sustained and prolonged restriction of human rights and civil liberties inherent in the Direct Provision system amount to child abuse?

This report calls on the Irish Government to establish an independent inquiry to acknowledge and investigate the long list of complaints, grievances and child protection concerns reported by the residents, children, non-governmental organisations and support agencies herein. It also highlights the need for a Government commitment to protection of the best interests of the child in all circumstances.

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