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'He has no one to talk to': Concerns raised around potential lack of schooling for 86 children of asylum seekers

There are currently over 500 people asylum seekers living in emergency accommodation.

Lodge. Travel Lodge, Swords, one of a number of emergency accommodation centres Source: GoogleMaps

MIGRANT RIGHTS GROUPS have raised concerns about a lack of educational access for children of asylum seekers currently living in hotels and B&Bs around Ireland. 

Nick Henderson of the Irish Refugee Council has said his organisation is “deeply concerned” at the increase of people living in these emergency accommodation set-ups. 

“Around 8% of all people living in direct provision are now in such accommodation,” Henderson has said. “In our experience of helping people in this situation, they are encountering difficulties in accessing basic services that they need access to and are entitled to by law.” 

Issues identified by the Council through outreach and people attending its drop-in centres – which it has written to the Department of Justice & Equality about – include children having no access to education. 

As of 15 April, there were 86 children of asylum seekers living in hotels and B&Bs around Ireland. 

A spokesperson for the Justice department told TheJournal.ie that while “every effort” is made to accommodate children in school “a pragmatic approach is taken where it is considered likely that the family may be moved to the longer term accommodation centre at short notice”. 

According to Reuben Hambakachere of Cultúr Migrants Centre in Meath, “Most of the temporary accommodation units for asylum seekers are in very remote areas where the children cannot access schools.”

Issues encountered by those living in emergency accommodation include the remote location of hotels and B&Bs, transport links to access weekly payment of €38.80 at a post office, as well as readily available service information. 

“I met a family in Carrickmacross who had lived in the country for more than four months and their child was stuck in a hotel room, while other kids their age were in school,” Hambakachere told TheJournal.ie.

“A lot of the people I met require urgent medical attention and they do not know where to go. I believe the situation can be managed better and people are treated with the dignity they deserve.”

Children living in more permanent Direct Provision centres generally have access to local schools. However, since September, pressure has grown on the department’s Reception & Integration Agency (RIA) meaning families have been placed in hotels and B&Bs. 

Lovely, who lives with her 17-year-old son Best in a B&B in Co Cavan, arrived in Ireland in early February following political unrest and violence in Zimbabwe. 

She first stayed at Treacy’s Hotel in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan but was moved to a  Co Monaghan B&B in March when the contract for this accommodation ended. 

Her son, she says, has yet to attend a local school, due in part to the remoteness of her accommodation, located in a rural area roughly 20 kilometres from Carrickmacross and one hour from Dundalk. Lovely is hoping to enrol Best in a school in the coming weeks, however, she says.  

“Each and every day he’s looking for a place to go out and play football,” says Lovely, whose son Best has not attended school since January due to upheaval in Zimbabwe. 

Our situation is going from bad to worse. He’s not talking to other people, he’s only talking to his Mum.

“He’s always indoors, he has no one to talk to. He’s always indoors and doesn’t have anything to do.”

DP Emergency Accommodation. Treacy's Hotel, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan Source: GoogleMaps

‘He’s never tired’

Under the EU Directive Ireland signed up to last year, “access to the education system shall not be postponed for more than three months from the date on which the application for international protection is lodged”. 

Under the government’s Statutory Instrument, “A recipient [applicant for international protection] who is a minor shall have access to primary and post-primary education in the like manner, and to the like extent, in all respects of a minor who is an Irish citizen.” 

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice & Equality told TheJournal.ie recently that the Reception & Integration makes “every effort” to accommodate children in school as soon as possible.  

“Where it is considered likely that the family may be in short-term accommodation for a brief period before being relocated to longer-term accommodation centre, children may not always enrol in the local school but support is provided to parents who wish to enrol their children in school for the duration of their stay in emergency accommodation.”

Lovely, who says she hopes to be moved to a more permanent Direct Provision centre in the coming weeks, hopes to enrol her son, Best, in a local school as soon as possible. “It’s the most important [thing] for us.”

She says that a lack of socialisation and routine for Best had resulted in erratic sleeping patterns. 

He can’t sleep at night. He sleeps at day not night because he has nothing to do. He says he’s never tired.

Hambakachere of Cultúr has said that his organisation is “really concerned” about the continued use of emergency set-ups which, he says, is leaving families “for three months or more with little or no access to mainstream services such as proper health care, social welfare services and education for their children”. 

Setbacks 

Pressure has grown on RIA since September. As a result, the department started contracting hotels and B&Bs to accommodate asylum seekers entering Ireland.

RIA planned to accommodate people in more permanent Direct Provision centres but it has not been possible following recent fires at hotels in Moville, Co Donegal and Rooskey on the Roscommon-Leitrim border.

It was announced last month that the department had cancelled plans to open the Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey as a direct provision centre. At the time, the Department of Justice said the decision was due to a leasing issue and not related to suspected arson attacks at the former hotel.

According to the justice department, there is “significant turnover within the population using emergency accommodation centres as new applicants are entering the system and others are exiting the system”.

“Some of those who use the emergency accommodation service do so for less than 24 hours while others are transferred to RIA accommodation centres as soon as suitable accommodation becomes available.”

There were 517 people living in emergency set-ups as of 15 April.

Last month, it was reported that Hatch Hall direct provision centre in Dublin -which currently accommodates over 200 people – is set to be redeveloped into a five-star hotel.

Last week, residents at Mosney Direct Provision centre protested at the treatment by staff and management of a fellow-resident who attempted to take her own life after being transferred to a B&B in Co Cavan. 

‘Some progress’ 

In February, the Ombudsman for Children expressed concern about the quality of educational provision for children living in Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROCs) established under the Refugee Protection Programme.

These centres are separate to the 517 people currently living in hotels and B&Bs and to Direct Provision centres. 

At EROCs there are educational facilities attached. A report from the Department of Education, however, found that because these EROC schools are not recognised by the Department of Education, children cannot access special needs assistance and other supports. 

It also found that no centre had been able “to systematically integrate its pupils into the nearest mainstream primary schools” meaning children were left in these EROC schools for months at a time. 

Department inspectors – who visited EROCs in Waterford, Roscommon and Kildare – recommended that attendance for children, especially post-primary children, at the EROC schools should be limited to three months before being placed in local mainstream schools.

“Children should not be adversely affected due to the lack of recognition of these education centres as schools and a commitment was made that children will have equal access to all necessary supports, including access to National Council for Special Education Supports and NEPS,” the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, told TheJournal.ie.

“It is important that these commitments are followed through on,” he said. “In particular the Department of Education and Skills should build on their plan to enable and encourage local schools to enrol these children and ensure additional resources are provided so that school communities and leaders can meet their needs.”

“Some progress has been made in addressing the issue but I will continue to seek updates from the relevant agencies to ensure equity in educational outcomes for the children affected.”

Dr Muldoon confirmed that his office has not visited children and families living in hotels and B&Bs, however. 

Hatch Hall. Hatch Hall Direct Provision Centre, Dublin Source: GoogleMaps

‘Pragmatic approach’

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told TheJournal.ie that its Inspectorate “inspects recognised schools and centres for education, not accommodation facilities”. 

In the case of international protection applicants outside the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, it is the remit of the justice department and RIA to arrange for enrollment in local schools. 

“The Department of Justice and Equality has indicated that emergency beds have been used in recent months due to factors outside its control, and the Operations Unit in RIA is transferring families to accommodation centres within the portfolio of RIA accommodation when suitable vacancies arise.”

Hambakachere has called on RIA to “quickly address” issues for asylum seekers currently being accommodated in hotels and B&Bs around Ireland and that “information about where to access services should be made available before [people] are placed in emergency accommodation rather than leaving new arrivals depending on other residents”. 

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