Direct provision is a means of meeting the basic needs of food and shelter for asylum seekers directly while their claims for refugee status are being processed.
In 2014 a client of Sinnott Solicitors challenged the Direct Provision system before the High Court. The High Court did not deal with the challenge in its entirety. The decision of the High Court held that a number of the house rules in Direct Provision Hostels were in breach of a person’s rights and in breach of their privacy.
This was by virtue of the fact that the High Court did not deal with a large part of the constitutionality of the system and held in favour of the State because the evidence of the client was presented on affidavit. The case is currently being appealed to the Court of Appeal of Ireland.
Our client is a brave and intelligent lady who could no longer withstand the daily grind of living in a Direct Provision Hostel for such a long number of years. She wants to work and to provide her son with a better life and to have an opportunity to set an example for him and Direct Provision prevents her from setting such an example.
Direct Provision asylum seekers are now coming forward
Since taking the High Court challenge, we have received many enquiries from people living in Direct Provision. We have discussed with them the effect that Direct Provision is having on the mental health of those people and their families.
Our clients have told us that they are suffering mentally and in some cases physically because of living in the conditions in the system. Most of our clients complain about the following;
- The lack of privacy,
- The draconian rules,
- The often inadequate food,
- The mental suffering of their children and themselves,
- Their physical suffering,
- The cramped conditions,
- The frustration,
- The erosion of their confidence,
- The inability to conduct a normal family life
- Most of all the psychological injury suffered due to the delay that they have encountered.
In most cases the delay caused by the State in dealing with our clients’ claims is completely unnecessary and completely unlawful.
There is no reason why our clients should be left in Direct Provision for years on end as that only leads to psychological and psychiatric suffering and severe mental health issues not to mention the financial loss because they are prevented from working.
Our clients complain of a sense of worthlessness because they are not allowed to work as their claims are being decided upon. Our clients are upset because they are unable to provide for their children with €9.10 weekly child allowance and to give them the things that normal children have in comparison.
Our adult clients complain about the allowance of €19.10 per week to live on as it is not enough to survive and to be happy in life. Many of our adult clients feel a sense of uselessness and despair because they are not allowed to work whilst their claims are being processed by the State. In most cases there is a completely unnecessary lengthy delay on the part of the State in dealing with our clients cases.
€53 Million Euro of Tax Payers’ money wasted
As most clients already know the State pays millions and millions of euro to private companies who run Direct Provision Hostels throughout the Country. In 2014 alone the State spent a whopping €53.2million on the Direct Provision system. This is an unbelievable waste of money. The money should be spent in dealing with the claims in a much faster and more efficient way and by allowing people who are waiting for their claims to be dealt with, to work and to earn their own money as opposed to being the subject of such an inhumane regime.
It is also well known that there are a number of people with deportation orders who have been left in Direct Provision Hostels for years rather than the State taking any meaningful steps to deport them. For example in 2014, 21% of residents in Direct Provision had been there for over 7 years. On average clients have been left waiting for their claims to be dealt with for periods of between 3 to 5 years which is completely unacceptable and damaging to their health and to their mental wellbeing.
Legal help is at hand
The principal of Sinnott Solicitors, Carol Sinnott has written extensively on her experience and the damage that she has witnessed to adults, parents, teenagers and children in Direct Provision.
In December 2014 there were 792 families in Direct Provision in the Country. 33% of occupants were children and that figure remains about the same today.
There were about 37% of adult males and 29% of adult females. The condition of Direct Provision Centres and Hostels are completely and utterly unsuitable for families and for adults living there for years on end.
Many of the people that came to us could not take the suffering and delay any longer and they have decided to sue the State for compensation for the damage to their health and for their psychiatric injuries and financial loss as a result of living in direct provision for an unnecessary prolonged period of time.
This is simply a result of the the State having acted unlawfully in not processing their claims in a timely manner which resulted in injuries to their mental and physical health.
People have come to us who are now adults but they had spent considerable periods of time in Direct Provision as children and they have only recently discovered that their long term mental health and well-being has been damaged as a result of their time there. Those people generally developed psychiatric injuries because they were deprived of a normal childhood and the psychological impact of such deprivation has since come to light.
For more on the psychological impact of the direct provision system on children and teenagers, you can read this recent article where Carol Sinnott recounts the experiences of her clients throughout the years.
State Working Group initiative is too lame… and too late
The Working Group which was set up to examine improvements that should be made to the State’s existing Direct Provision system have acknowledged that the time spent in Direct Provision is damaging and unnecessary.
They have suggested that the time should be no longer than six months but it is too late for that now because many of our clients have already suffered very significant damage because of the institutionalised regime and confined conditions within which they and their families have been forced to live.
If you have spent time in Direct Provision and you have suffered as a result you are very welcome to contact us with any queries that you may have. If you wish to take part in our survey on Direct provision, you may fill out the brief questionnaire below.
It is a remarkable system and I have visited almost every hostel at this point over the years in different parts of the country. All of them appear to have the same hallmarks. Direct provision hostels are institutions which are wholly unsuitable for the people and families who reside in them.
The delay experienced by asylum seekers as a result of the State’s inaction in dealing with applications in a timely manner has resulted in severe psychiatric and psychological injuries for many of the residents of those institutions.
At their wits’ end… a story of one particular hostel visit
I remember in 2010 visiting a hostel in the South East which is now closed. Of all the hostels across the country I had even been to, that to mind was one of the worst. The hostel accommodated single men.
I went in to see my client and I was met by a very kind lady who worked in the hostel. She arranged a seat for me to speak to my client in a tiny back office which I welcomed. It was a sweltering hot day and I spent an hour or so speaking to my client about his case.
When I went to exit the room, I was very surprised to discover that a queue had formed all along the hall down to tiny the back office with people lined up to see me.
The queue was literally out the door! I hadn’t expected it and I was anxious to leave as I had spoken to my client about his case. I explained to them that I had just come to speak with my client and that if they wanted to discuss their cases, it would be necessary for them to speak with their solicitors of the Refugee Legal Service or whomever acted for them at that time.
In the end I didn’t have the heart to leave without at least having the courtesy to speak to them. Some were there for years. I met one man who had been there for over eight years waiting on the State to deal with his humanitarian leave application.
He was from Sudan. He was extremely agitated and it was clear that he had suffered with psychiatric problems. He was too agitated to speak to me and needed to be accompanied by his friend who told me that the man had tried to take his own life twice during his tenure at the hostel.
I met others who were at their wits end with their living arrangements. I realised that my very presence gave them a glimmer of hope that I might be able to do something for them that their own legal advisers couldn’t do. They seized the opportunity to speak with me.
The fact of the matter was that there was little or nothing I could do for those people that was not being done already. I explained to them that there were lengthy delays with the State dealing with humanitarian applications but I could not explain to them why some applications were dealt with quickly by the Department of Justice and some were left in limbo for years on end despite numerous reminders to deal with their cases.
It was almost impossible at that time to explain the inconsistency with the time delays and the varying lengths of time that one had to wait for their humanitarian leave applications to be dealt with.
As with most hostels there was little or nothing to do there and most men hung around outside or sat in the television room. It was a Friday afternoon and I remember thinking how boring their existence appeared. It seemed as though one day lead into the next with nothing to differentiate one day from the next.
Upon entering, I immediately picked up on the air of depression which hung around the place. It was outside of the town (as usual) away from the hustle and bustle and the local community. It was the weekend, Friday evening but for them it really didn’t matter what day of the week it was.The fact that their weekly allowance was and still is €19.10 per week wouldn’t exactly make for an enjoyable weekend.
Air of Suspicion
As I had mentioned in a recent Irish Times article on this subject by Karl O’Brien, there appears to be an air of suspicion each time I enter a hostel. On the following Monday, I was back at my desk in Dublin and I received a telephone call from an individual whose name I didn’t recognise. I took the call and individual asked me what the purpose of my attendance was at the particular hostel the previous Friday. I was taken aback by the enquiry so I began to take a careful note of what was said to me.
He told me that the gardener/caretaker had witnessed me entering the hostel and that I had “no business going in there” without permission.
I made some enquiries about the person that phoned me and I discovered that the person who contacted me was a director of a company who owned a number of hostels.
A Very Public ‘Privacy’
I have found my experience of visiting direct provision hostels trying at times. The vast number of hostels do not have an area available whereby I can speak with my clients and I am precluded from going to their rooms to discuss their cases with them even thought their rooms are effectively their living quarters. Their rooms are the only place where they can spend time on their own with their family as a family unit . Their room is the only place where they have privacy within the entire area of the hostel.
It is very difficult for people having to discuss their private business and details in respect of their cases in common areas in close proximity to the other residents. Imagine going to a nursing home to take instructions to make a will and imagine a situation where that client is required to discuss their last wishes within earshot of the other residents in the common room because their solicitor is not allowed to attend their room for the purpose of taking instructions!
When Counsel and myself visited another hostel to take instructions from our client, I received a letter at my office with the following extracts:
“You are very welcome to visit any direct provision centre to meet with your clients in the common areas of the centre”.
“For the avoidance of any doubt and to avoid any unnecessary journeys on your part in future, if you wish to visit and tour any direct provision centre in the course of meeting with your clients resident on-site, you will need to make written/email contact with this Office. This communication should outline where you wish to visit, the purpose of the visits, the clients you are visiting there and the proposed dated for the visit. This request will then be processed in the normal way….”
“These centres are the homes of those persons who are accommodated there whilst their applications for international protection are being processed. In this regard, residents are entitled to their privacy….”
Each time I have visited a centre and asked to speak with my client in the privacy of their room, that request was refused. I have never made a written request to RIA outlining the purpose of my visit, where I wish to visit, the client that I wish to visit and the purpose of the visit.
If I were going to Cloverhill Prison to taken instructions from a client, I would make arrangements in advance in order to accommodate the prison staff and my client to get him from the cell down to the solicitors meeting area. That’s different. That’s prison. It beggars belief that RIA cite that “residents are entitled to their privacy”. As stated above, this type of regime could not be more intrusive for our clients.
Child Protection reasons have also been cited. If the State were so concerned about Child Protection, they would not allow a situation to develop whereby the duration direction provision children and their families spend in the system is damaging their mental and physical health.
Children Witness Sexual Acts
I have seen cases whereby children have been subjected to and witnessed things that they should not as children be subjected to. For example, a number of our clients have complained that their children have witnessed sexual acts between adults if they are walking down corridors and passing bedroom doors left ajar. They have witnessed fights and arguments between adults, undoubtedly arguments which arose because of the sheer tension of living in such an environment.
The children rely often on the generosity of the public where members of the public drop to the centres used bicycles and toys. The children live in a regime and like the adults, many are now institutionalised having spent most of their lives and in many cases, their entire lives living in these centres. (JRS Ireland also contribute to this cause and have a Christmas Appeal for toys for children in direct provision which I can send you details of.)
The adults are precluded from giving their children a better life.
- They are precluded from setting examples for their children such as cooking a family meal.
- They are generally not allowed to cook or prepare food in their rooms.
- They are precluded from working so their children can never experience a working ethos from their parents.
The adults express such frustration about this. They sometimes tell us that what children see, children do. What do the children in direct provision centres see in their parents? They see parents who have no work to go to and parents who are now allowed to work thereby by extension they see their parents as being restricted, inferior and unequal.
The fact that their parents are not allowed to do the same things as the parents of their schoolfriends creates the ideology that their parents are lesser beings when compared to other parents on the outside.
They can often see their parents as a source of embarrassment as they experience life outside of the centres and they begin to compare the adults outside to their parents in the centres.
They see parents who have no money to spend on them as their parents receive an allowance of €9.10 per child which is pittance and not enough to survive with an individual child’s needs let alone treat them the odd time.
This leads to a sense of uselessness and despair amongst the adults. Single adults with no children experience the same feelings of uselessness and despair.
It leads to depression in many many cases it leads to situations where the adults cannot leave the direct provision centres even after their cases have been dealt with because their confidence has been undermined by such an extent as a result of the regime and institutionalisation that they no longer have the self-belief and confidence to seek work.
Many children suffer as a result of living with depressed parents and regardless of the efforts of their parents to avoid affecting their children by their illness, it is inevitable that their well-being will affected by their parents illness.
Teenager And Parent Dynamic
Parents are really struggling when it comes to teenage children. Sometimes when they come to our office, they tell us about their concerns for their teenage children. Some get into trouble and some of the teenagers have serious anger issues and psychological problems.
A huge source of concern for some parents is their extreme worry that their teenagers activities could have an effect on their cases particularly if it results in convictions, juvenile liaison officers etc.
Often teenage children resent their parents because they see their parents as being inferior to adults on the outside and they resent the fact that their parents are not able to give them things that other teenagers on the outside get such as holidays, lunch money, runners, school trips, music lessons, etc.
They resent the fact that they live in centres where they are embarrassed to bring their friends. It has often been reported to us that Irish parents do not allow their children to visit their friends at the various centres and that creates a feelings inferiority, anger and frustration on the teenagers part.
When they ask their parents, when they will be out of direct provision, their parents are unable to give them an answer and that creates resentment and anger towards the parent(s).
Teenagers especially find it difficult to live in one room with their parents and other siblings. They complain about that fact that they cannot concentrate on their homework and their studies.
They have no privacy. They often use any excuse to get out of the room and the centre and this can lead to the types of social problems experienced by teenagers who hang around town at night and lack a normal routine. The know that they cannot go on to third level without absurd funding unlike their friends on the outside who take the third level system for granted. That also makes them feel different, excluded, inferior and so on.
I visited Auschwitz in 2006 to pay my respects and like you I remember thinking that it’s layout looked very like Lisseywollen Accommodation Centre in Athlone.
There were rows of bleak buildings parallel to one another in a straight line with nothing around them but the high fences and the bleak clay landscape very like the mobile homes in Lisseywollen which are lined up in parallel rows on a tarmac surface with nothing to distinguish one mobile home from the other. There are no plants or gardens, just a bleak mobile home like all of the others.
Because I have worked with Asylum seekers for so long, I often get a silly remark meant of course in a jovial way which I always take in good spirits such as:
“Well are you skill keeping those feckers in the country?”
If I got a euro for every time I have heard a person tell me about asylum seekers costing the country a fortune, getting money for nothing, fiddling the system and so on, I would probably have enough to give up work and quite comfortably retire by now.
I often tell them that it is their money and their taxes that are being wasted by the Government and that they should be exercised by the fact that those people are not allowed to work and to earn a living because the Government prefers to keep those people in Direct Provision Centres providing them with a tiny sum to live on in addition to paying private companies millions of euro to accommodate them. That normally raises an eyebrow because people don’t realise what is really going on.
The above is my experience of the system to date. It is an unbiased and truthful reflection of my experience of direct provision and our client’s experiences of this inhumane system, many of whom are damaged as a result of their unnecessarily lengthy stay.