A new report published by the Irish Refugee Council catalogues over 10 years of enforced child poverty, malnutrition and social exclusion caused by the institutional system of accommodating asylum seekers, known as Direct Provision.   The report, ‘State sanctioned child poverty and exclusion:  the case of children in accommodation for asylum-seekers’was launched today (18/9/12) by CEO of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay.

Fergus Finlay says: “The history of institutionalised care for children in Ireland is one of tragedy, abuse and neglect.  The system of Direct Provision is another example of our failure to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Of the 5,098 residents in Direct Provision, over one third are children.  The families are given an allowance of €19.10 per week for an adult and €9.60 for a child. These children spend a significant proportion of their childhood in Direct Provision accommodation.  The key themes identified by the report 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 and significant protection concerns.

The study, which reviewed the provision of direct accommodation in Ireland over the past decade, highlighted cases of weight loss among children and hunger among adults because of strict family rationing.

The report found that, in many instances, asylum-seekers and their families were subject to severe levels of overcrowding, with many families confined to single rooms for long periods. In one case, a family of five was confined to single room, with three children made to sleep in one bed, despite repeated complaints.

The report makes a number of recommendations including ensuring that heating, hot water and cleanliness are guaranteed, children have access to private toilet facilities, children are not exposed to inappropriate behaviour, including that of a sexual or violence

It documented frequent instances of malnutrition among children and expectant mothers as well as illnesses related to diet among babies and young children.

Chairing the launch, Mrs Justice Catherine Mc Guinness, says: “This welcome report demonstrates the failure of the state to vindicate children’s rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the family life rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of children in the asylum system.  The picture painted of the present situation must give rise to concern, and indeed anger.

“The recommendations called for in the report are practical and achievable.”

The system of Direct Provision, which was set up in 2000 by the Department of Justice to deal with the increasing number of asylum claimants, was intended to house applicants and their families for six months.

However, the report said asylum-seekers in Ireland typically spent four years in the system, and in some cases over seven years before their claims were processed.

Samantha Arnold, Children’s and Young Persons’ Officer with the Irish Refugee Council says: “Both Fine Gael and Labour committed to reviewing the system of Direct Provision in July 2010. So far, those commitments haven’t been met. ”

“The conditions that children in Direct Provision live in do not comply with the Children First Guidelines. Despite not having chosen to live in Ireland or seek asylum here, the children living in and growing up in Direct Provision are subjected to enforced poverty, discrimination and social exclusion.”

The report called on the Government for an immediate review of the system in line with commitments made in its programme for government.

Written by Una O’ Brien Solicitor