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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 25 April, 2019
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'After the second attack he became antisocial, children in Direct Provision are targeted'

Parents talk to us about why they are seeking asylum in Ireland and the impact of raising a family in an institutionalised setting.

AFTER THE SECOND attack he became antisocial, he didn’t wake up until 1pm maybe, he was just sleeping and sleeping and sleeping. I had to get him some form of counselling to deal with everything that happened to him.

Almost 6,300 people live in 38 Direct Provision centres across Ireland.

Some 730 individuals have been granted protection status or permission to remain in Ireland, including 206 refugees.

The DP system was established in 2000 to house asylum seekers entering the country. It was originally intended to be a temporary measure where people would be housed for a six-month period while their asylum application was processed.

Close to 450 people have been living in DP centres for over five years as they await a decision on their status or subsequent appeals.

In recent weeks, TheJournal.ie has been highlighting people’s experiences of living in DP.

Here, we speak to women who live in the centres in Clondalkin and Mosney about why they are seeking asylum in Ireland and the impact of raising a family in an institutionalised setting.

shutterstock_1294737160 File photo Source: Shutterstock/Motortion Films

Raising children presents many challenges. Raising children in a Direct Provision centre presents many more.

Families in the centres generally share the same room meaning there is little to no privacy, meals are provided at set times and they often cannot cook, and conditions can be cramped and difficult.

Anita* and her husband William* are raising their three children in the DP centre in Clondalkin Towers, west Dublin. They have two teenage children, a boy and a girl, and a younger daughter.

The family have been living in Ireland for just over three years. They fled South Africa due to violence and intimidation. Anita said the family home was burned down and both William and their son Thomas* were attacked by gangs. She said the family was targeted because William is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“The reason I came to Ireland is because I am in an interracial marriage. There is a lot of xenophobia in South Africa.

“My family was in danger. The main thing that really pushed us out of South Africa was my son was attacked and that was the final straw, My children, although they were born in South Africa and I am a South African, they are not classified as South African – not by government, but by the community – because William is not from South Africa.

Our house was burned down to the ground, our car was burnt out, my husband was attacked. We stuck it out for some time but when they attacked my son that was the final straw.

Thomas was just 11 years old when he was attacked by a group of males in 2015. He was hospitalised with his injuries. The family decided to leave South Africa and Anita said they chose Ireland as they didn’t need visas to travel here.

“We paid somebody who brought us over here. Ireland was open to South Africans, we didn’t need visas to come here.

“If you flee because of any type of persecution or being endangered you don’t have time to wait for visas so you just have to go wherever is available. We paid about 80,000 rand (about €5,000). We sold quite a bit of our stuff to make it possible,” Anita said.

Broken jaw 

The family moved to Clondalkin last October, having previously lived in DP accommodation in Mosney and, for a longer period, Athlone.

Anita said the family had settled relatively well in Athlone, where they and other asylum seekers lived in mobile homes.

However, the situation deteriorated last year when Thomas was attacked. Anita said another boy punched him, breaking his jaw in two places. A few months later Thomas was attacked again, this time by a group. Anita believes both attacks were racially motivated.

“His life was actually then in danger in Athlone. They told him, in so many words, if he says who did it, they will deal with him. Four or five months after his operation, they did it again and that is what brought us here.

Children in Direct Provision are targeted, they are targeted just for the mere fact that they are in Direct Provision. They have a stigma around them.

Anita said she contacted the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) and management at the DP centre in Athlone, requesting a transfer to another centre.

shutterstock_1294736980 File photo Source: Shutterstock/Motortion Films

“It wasn’t safe for him to stay there because he wasn’t free to walk around the way he wanted. It’s already stressful staying in Direct Provision and then to be housebound like that … He was out of school for two months because they put a plate in his jaw and then he had metal braces.”

Anita said the attacks had a big impact on Thomas and changed his behaviour.

After the second attack he became antisocial, he didn’t wake up until 1pm maybe, he was just sleeping and sleeping and sleeping. I had to get him some form of counselling to deal with everything that happened to him.

A local youth club has arranged for Thomas to take part in counselling once a week. “It’s helping him, I can see a difference in him,” Anita told us.

She said Thomas is busy studying for his Junior Certificate and doing better overall but “doesn’t go out that much, the only place he goes to is school”.

FGM and violence 

Sandra* is raising a teenage daughter in the DP centre in Mosney, Co Meath.

She fled eastern Africa due to physical and sexual violence she experienced at the hands of two former partners. She said her daughter’s father was extremely violent and a supporter of female genital mutilation (FGM), the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

She said her husband’s family arranged for their first daughter to undergo FGM on the day she was born. There were complications and the baby girl died later that day.

“His family said, ‘We have to do ritual, otherwise the two of you may die’ … I didn’t realise what was happening.

“They brought the baby away and when she came back she cried and cried and cried. I was suspicious and asked what they did to her but they wouldn’t say.”

Sandra said her baby later “started gasping for air”.

I was crying and shouting and they just took my baby. I don’t know where they brought her, they wouldn’t tell me.

“I didn’t even get to go to the burial, I don’t know what they did with her. It was a horrific experience, the worst moment of my life.”

shutterstock_1128938942 File photo Source: Shutterstock/Oleg Elkov

Sandra wanted to leave her partner but he was violent and, shortly after the birth, she said he began raping her.

“He was so violent, so cruel towards to me … it was through the continuous rapes I conceived [my second child].”

Sandra was working on a farm in a bid to save enough money to escape. She gave birth to another daughter. Her husband said the baby would not be circumcised until her first birthday. He also wanted Sandra to be circumcised and told her this would happen on the same date.

Sandra said she was terrified and fled in the middle of the night. She said her former partner tried to find her and the baby, but family and friends refused to tell him where they were.

Sandra later became involved in another relationship that over time also turned violent. She said her new partner hid her and her daughter’s passports so she wouldn’t be able to leave. Sandra said she eventually found the passports and gave them to a friend for safe keeping.

When he couldn’t find the passports, he started beating me, he tied my mouth, my hands, tied me to the bed.

Sandra said her partner threatened to burn the house down, with her and her daughter inside. She said he left the house and her daughter used a kitchen knife to untie her.

They fled to a local church, which arranged a safe place for them to stay. She said a woman from the church, who was aware of her situation, arranged for her and her daughter to go to Ireland.

They have been living here since 2016 and their asylum application is ongoing.

Sandra is worried about the impact these experiences have had on her daughter but said she has tried to protect her as much as possible. She said her daughter has settled in well and “loves school”, adding: “She feels safe and secure here.”

“She had made a lot of friends and is really settling in well. Some friends have been to the centre, but she doesn’t want to tell all of them she lives here.”

Sandra said her daughter’s’ teachers have been giving her extra help so she can keep up with her classmates, adding she is “very grateful to the school”.

If granted permission to stay in Ireland, Sandra said she wants to get a job and settle here permanently.

Rape crisis centre 

Sandra goes to regular counselling sessions at a local rape crisis centre, something she said is helping her process what she has been through, telling us: “It has really helped me to open up, to be free.”

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said such centres are often used by asylum seekers but they don’t keep statistics on how many access their services or call their 24-hour helpline (1800 77 8888).

We recognise and believe that many asylum seekers and refugees have suffered rape and other forms of sexual abuse either as part of the persecution they suffered or on their flight from their home countries.

“We are glad to be able to work with some of them but we worry that there are others, refugees and vulnerable migrants, who may not [access services],” Blackwell told us. 

She stated that, in addition to counselling, the organisation’s training team “regularly run courses for frontline workers who work with refugees and asylum seekers, to help them to deal sensitively with those who are traumatised by sexual and other gender based violence – when we can access funding to do so”.

“We are also exploring how we can better tailor our services to give such vulnerable migrants more access. We certainly recognise the need.”

Rental market 

Emily* and her young daughter live at the Clondalkin DP centre. They too have been granted leave-to-remain status for three years. 

Emily said she left southern African over three years ago for safety reasons. Her daughter was born in Ireland. She said raising a child in a DP centre, where residents are from many different backgrounds,  is “very difficult”. 

“You can raise the child with your own rules as a mother, but the other kids who are around – depending on how they are raised – influence them. 

“You find it’s very difficult sometimes to control your own child in the way you want to, the way you want them to grow up. Unlike when you are in your own house, you know your rules and can apply them.”

During the week, it was announced that Clondalkin Towers is set to remain open for at least another two years.

Prior to this development, there had been calls for the planned closure of the centre to be postponed on humanitarian grounds as residents such as Emily and her daughter struggled to find alternative accommodation, as reported by TheJournal.ie.

There were 235 people, including 78 children, living in the centre as of last month. About 70 residents already have protected or leave-to-remain status and face having to find private rented accommodation; this figure includes 19 refugees.

Emily told us it has been very difficult to find somewhere else to live due to the rental situation in Dublin. 

“Truly speaking, I don’t even know [what will happen]. You think, ‘Oh I’ve got my papers, this is what I’m going to do’, but it’s not like that, it’s not as easy as that. You encounter so many difficulties,” she said. 

Impact on mental health 

Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, has consistently highlighted the negative impact living in DP can have on a person’s wellbeing.

A spokesperson said a “significant factor” is “the length of time people wait for asylum applications to be decided, without knowing how long they will be waiting”. They said “living years on end in this limbo” can have “an overwhelming impact on people’s mental health”.

Nasc is among the organisations to call on the government to implement a vulnerability assessment “that will help determine people’s needs in terms of their accommodation and the other services they will need to be able to access to ensure they are getting the supports they need”.

hallway A hallway in the Clondalkin DP centre.

“If people who would be deemed to be vulnerable – for example people experiencing trauma as a result of torture or sexual violence; people who are LGBT; people who are trafficked – are not being supported appropriately in Direct Provision, that is because they are not being assessed for those vulnerabilities and assigned accommodation that suits those identified vulnerabilities,” the spokesperson said.

A vulnerability assessment is a statutory obligation of opting into the EU (Recast) Reception Conditions Directive, which was transposed into Irish legislation last June. However, it is yet to be introduced here.  

The Nasc spokesperson said the specific needs of vulnerable adults and children who may be experiencing trauma or mental health issues are “not necessarily getting the supports they need to overcome these issues that would be specific to the asylum/refugee experience”.

They said a “very significant problem” is the continued lack of a vulnerability assessment for people in the asylum process which can help identify these issues as soon as possible, to ensure people receive appropriate supports.

This is something that is legally required for the State to provide since last June when the Reception Conditions Directive was formalised into Irish legislation and has not yet been put in place by the HSE.

The spokesperson noted that specialised supports are concentrated in urban places and main cities and “it may not be logistically possible for people in remote Direct Provision centres to reach them”.

A spokesperson for the Irish Refugee Council said the organisation has “spoken with several people who feel unsafe in centres for a variety of reasons” such as traumatic past experiences.

We also have concerns that the vulnerability of some groups may be completely disregarded. Acute needs often go unrecognised or unaddressed and quite often people are accommodated in rural parts of the country with limited to no access to psycho-social or other supports.

“Direct Provision is a form of institutionalised living and what these issues highlight is the fact that accommodating people in their hundreds for protracted periods of time in this manner results in interpersonal issues and conflicts arising.

“This form of accommodation is very stressful and can exacerbate existing traumas. Significant delays in processing applications also mean that people are living in these circumstances with no way of knowing how long it will continue or when they will be able to move on with their lives,” they added.

WhatsApp Image 2019-02-23 at 12.25.05 One of the bedrooms in the Clondalkin DP centre.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Equality said any health issues of DP residents are addressed by the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health.

They said the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), which falls under the department’s remit, liaises closely with colleagues in the HSE and other departments and agencies “to address the health needs of residents”.

“Any residents with complex medical conditions are assessed in Balseskin Reception Centre so that their needs can be addressed. Protection applicants have access to all emergency medical services immediately on arrival in the country,” the spokesperson said.

They added that GPs or medical personnel in hospital can refer asylum seekers who have suffered torture or trauma for specialist medical services in Dublin or other centres.

The department did not respond to a request for comment on why a vulnerability assessment has not been introduced to date.

*Names have been changed to protect people’s identities.

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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