Material Deprivation

Asylum-seekers living in direct provision are not allowed to work or seek alternative housing while waiting for decisions on their protection claims and must rely solely on the aforementioned meager weekly allowances provided by the government. Even after taking these funds into account, the “incomes” allotted for families place them 20 % below the national poverty line (Fanning 2004, 209). Children often suffer from extreme material deprivation because their parents’ small cash allowances force trade-offs between items such as nonprescription medicines, toiletries, diapers, baby formula, and nutritious food (Ibid.). Of the asylum-seekers living in direct provision housing, 92 % believed it was necessary to buy extra food to supplement the meals provided by the housing staff because the meals were not culturally appropriate or did not meet the dietary needs of their children (Christie 2003, 28). Joan Giller, a doctor who visited a direct provision center in Cork, elaborates on the interrelated problems facing asylum-seeker families:

Not being able to work is devastating to people whose worth [...] is based on their ability to provide; being forced to live as a family in one room is anathema to most families, for whom privacy is essential; not being able to cook for the family and having to exist on food that is often barely edible is torturous; living in poverty is degrading and demoralizing [...]. (Giller 2013)

Article 24 of the CRC demands that “State Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to [...] health care services” (Arnold 2012, 20). Unfortunately, lack of appropriate food and healthcare has resulted repeatedly in untreated malnutrition among children and expectant mothers living in direct provision housing. According to Regulation 1.7 of the RIA’s House Rules, accommodation centers must provide a “varied and nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner” as well as a “varied and nutritious packed-lunch for school-going children” (Ibid., 21). Yet, several studies published on various direct provision centers in Ireland noted that all of the food served to children contained high levels of calories and fat, while fruit and vegetables were limited (Ibid., 20). For example, the residents of the Eyre Powell accommodation center reported having only “a steady stream of chicken nuggets, white rice, ketchup, vegetables and chips [...] and a distinct lack of toddler appropriate foods” (Ibid., 21).

Asylum-seekers in direct provision are not allowed to cook their own food, and parents reported having no control over their children’s mealtimes or when they could wean their babies off of baby formula and onto solid foods (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission 2014, 15). Babies and young children who slept through scheduled mealtimes often were left without food until the next mealtime (Arnold 2012, 15). In 2005, an adult asylum-seeker living in the Railway Hotel accommodation in County Mayo wrote to the Reception and Integration Agency with a number of concerns, including the on-site manager’s stipulation that once her child reached six months of age, baby food and formula would no longer be provided to her (Ibid.). Article 6 of the CRC requires States to protect a child’s right to life and healthy development, and I argue that the malnutrition suffered by children in direct provision amounts to a violation of that Article (Ibid., 22). Additionally, the lack of control that parents have over their children’s diet is disempowering and further compounds the everyday stress and uncertainty they experience while navigating through the asylum application system.

The welfare discrimination and severe poverty experienced by child asylum-seekers in direct provision run contrary to Ireland’s obligations as a party to the CRC. Although external agencies and organizations often visit accommodation centers and subsidize childcare and other services for families, these arrangements are usually on a short-term or ad hoc basis, thus creating further instability in the children’s lives (Dolan and Sherlock 2010, 159). Ultimately, dependence on small weekly allowances, inconsistent experiences with charitable arrangements, and instability of funding from external agencies compound difficulties for parents struggling to properly raise their children in inadequate accommodation (Ibid.).

In addition, I argue that overcrowded living quarters in direct provision amount to a violation of Article 16 of the CRC, which articulates children’s rights to privacy. Because of limited space, some asylum-seeker families are required to share one bedroom or one hostel-like room with non-relatives, triggering concerns about mixed-sex accommodation among non-family members (Siggins 2013). Such close quarters make children vulnerable to verbal, physical, or sexual abuse by others, undermining the “protection” that they supposedly receive under the RIA’s Child Protection Policy (Ibid.). Tensions within housing centers are detrimental to healthy family life; for example, children reported verbal abuse by non-parental adults (Fanning and Veale 2004, 247). Some parents described their children as becoming psychologically withdrawn because of tensions within housing centers (Ibid.). Christie (2003) writes:

Conditions in [direct provision present] a range of day-to-day tensions and pressures that affect the psychological well-being of parents and children. The lack of privacy [makes] family life extremely difficult and the chronic overcrowding pose[s] health and safety risks to parents and children. For example, dangerous items such as kettles and utensils could not be left out of the reach of children due to the lack of space and facilities. (228)

Lack of privacy undoubtedly strains children’s relationships with their parents, while making them vulnerable to abuse by others living in the same housing accommodation. I argue that this constitutes a violation of Article 34, which requires state parties to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights). Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, highlighted the risk of child abuse in direct provision accommodation where families are required to share one room by citing a case in which a 14-year-old female asylum-seeker in an accommodation center in Mayo was raped by a non-family member, adult male resident in September 2011 (Fanning and Veale 2004, 247).

Single mothers of small children typically share just one bedroom with other mothers (usually non-relatives) and their small children (Arnold 2012, 18). Consequently, parents living in direct provision noted that they cannot “parent their children in a normal way” and that their right to be a “guardian to their children was constantly undermined” by the lack of control over their living arrangements (Ibid., 20). Even normal child-rearing activities (e.g., toilet training) are made difficult by overcrowding and lack of adequate private space (Fanning and Veale 2004, 246). Although it is preferable to keep families together during the asylum application process, the challenges of maintaining a healthy family life within the confines of a small space shared with non-relatives also must be acknowledged (Arnold 2012, 18).

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