Direct provision hurts children and families

Cork activists and migrant families protest against Direct Provision.

Gyunghee Park investigates the abysmal conditions for families living in direct provision centres.

For the 4,300 people seeking asylum in Ireland currently living in 34 direct provision centres across the country, what was initially meant to be a maximum of a six-month stay has become a debilitating state of limbo. Without any notification of their progress, programmes for transition, or permission to work, some have lived for over a decade in constant fear of deportation. But among the biggest outrages of the direct provision system is the long-term institutionalisation of 1,600 children who live in cramped quarters, have little access to play and recreation, and face uncertain futures.

Mothers I spoke to at the Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre outside Cork City painted a grim picture of the difficulties of parenting under these conditions. Among them was a geologist, a public administrator, an assistant nurse, and marketing executive – all of whom have been in direct provision for 4-6 years with their valuable skills going to waste. These women testified to instances of organising their own transport when going into labour (one even recalled walking to the hospital when her water broke), having to ask the kitchen staff to blend some noodles as no baby (or children’s) food is provided, and being devastated every time their kids ask why they don’t live in a house like others at school.

Whole families are stuffed into unhygienic areas without any sense of discretion or space.

Centres, many of which are privately run and operate on a for-profit basis, allocate living space according to criteria that prioritise profit maximisation over comfort and privacy – a formula that means whole families are stuffed into unhygienic areas without any sense of discretion or space. Though it is most common for entire families to share one or two rooms together, sometimes they share living quarters with other families of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds and because there are no separate bathrooms, children share communal toilets and showers with grown men and women. In Cork, youngsters have coped with the barest of leisure facilities: an outdoor area with one slide and a swing for over sixty children.

In the absence of detailed public opinion data in relation to direct provision one would think from popular media discourse on asylum seekers – notably radio phone-ins – that direct provision residents are comfortably living off the generosity of Irish taxpayers. But one mother with two children whose weekly allowance begins at €245.60, is left with €38.80 after Aramark (managing the Cork centre) takes their cut. That’s €19.60 for herself and €9.60 per child a week.

After nearly fifteen years, the costly and inhumane system of direct provision has gained national attention because organised protests by asylum-seekers in Limerick, Cork, and Waterford during the autumn of 2014 were successful in beginning to publicise the long and gruelling process by which the state decides whether claimants qualify for international protection.

In the context of an enormous wave of displaced people fleeing their homelands in numbers unseen since World War II (with a full 50% of the refugee population under the age of 18), the question of how Ireland should treat those who seek refuge on our shores is not going to go away. With Ireland’s record of institutionalising ‘undesirable’ populations already a stain on the nation. A new generation must ask what side of history it would like to be on.