Writing in Jesuit Quarterly Studies this week, the Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has heavily criticised the system of direct provision for asylum seekers. According to O’Reilly, the system is in breach of the Irish Constitution and international human rights law as there is a real risk of child abuse and a lack of protection of family rights. Delays in processing asylum applications result in some families living in direct provision centres for years. The Ombudsman argues that the centres are suitable only for very short periods of time and not for long-term residency.
Nearly 5,000 asylum seekers currently reside in direct provision centres and over 1,800 of those are children. Meals are prepared for the asylum seekers, meaning that they have no control over their diet, families are often required to share rooms with other families, leading to a lack of privacy, and each person receives a sum lower than €20 a week to live on, with children receiving less than €10 per week. The Ombudsman also notes that enforced idleness is common, as asylum seekers cannot work while there asylum status is under review.
In her investigation into a complaint made by one family, O’Reilly found that they had been separated due to a failure on the part of the HSE to implement a Social Welfare decision. An African woman and her two daughters who came to Ireland to seek asylum were placed in a direct provision centre and lived there for fifteen months. The family left because of serious concerns over the mental health of one of the daughters, who had attempted to take her own life. Her mother felt that the conditions in the centre they were living in were having a negative impact on her child’s mental health and decided to leave the centre on this basis. The child was placed in foster care because the family had no income. Initially, the mother’s application to receive Social Welfare was rejected, but following a lengthy appeal process, she was eventually approved to receive payments. However, the decision was not implemented, which had adverse consequences for the family, who are still separated. The Ombudsman has criticised the lack of implementation of the decision in strong terms.
O’Reilly believes that the conditions described are in breach of Article 41.1.1 of the Constitution, which protects family rights and Article42A.1, which was inserted as a result of last year’s referendum to protect children’s rights. In her article, the Ombudsman notes that while there are some contradictory Supreme Court rulings, there is general consensus that the natural rights provisions of the Constitution apply to all people in the state and not only to Irish citizens.
Regarding international human rights, FLAC has commented that ‘the direct provision system does not provide an environment conducive to the enjoyment or fulfilment of the most basic human rights, including the rights to health, food, housing and family life. It also has negative repercussions on the right to education and the right to work as well as to freedom of expression, freedom of movement and freedom of association.’ Ireland is party to a number of international human rights conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and therefore is required by law to respect the rights of all people as listed by FLAC.
At Brophy’s, we have encountered appalling reports from clients living in such accommodation. We welcome the Ombudsman’s review and call for the Minister to take immediate action to review the living conditions in Direct Provision centres around Ireland.