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Asylum Children Go Hungry, Says Report

Resource type: News

Irish Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Many children in the State’s asylum process are living in extreme poverty in overcrowded accommodation with inadequate food, according to a report published yesterday.

The Irish Refugee Council report paints a grim picture of the State’s system for accommodating asylum-seekers, known as direct provision.

It documents frequent instances of malnutrition among children and expectant mothers, as well as illnesses related to diet among babies and young children.

The study highlights cases of weight loss among children and regular complaints of hunger among adults as a result of strict family rationing.

In one case, a reception centre stipulated that once a child reached six months, no more baby or toddler foods would be provided, and that they would have to make do with the food supplied to adult residents.

The report, which reviewed conditions in asylum centres across the country over a 10-year period, found many families living in chronically overcrowded conditions, often without adequate toilet and hygiene facilities.

In one case, a family of five was confined to a single room for nearly two years, with three children made to sleep in one bed, despite repeated complaints.

The report found many children living in direct provision were alienated as a result of “enforced poverty and social exclusion”.

It also warns there is a “real risk” of child abuse where families are required to share accommodation with strangers.

Of the 5,098 people residing in reception centres for asylum-seekers, over one third, or 1,789, are children.

Families are given an allowance of €19.10 per week for an adult and €9.60 per child.

The system, which was set up in 2000 by the Department of Justice to deal with the increasing number of asylum claimants, was intended to house applicants and their families for six months.

However, the report says asylum-seekers in Ireland typically spent four years in the system, and in some cases over seven years, awaiting the processing of asylum claims.

Some of the children in these centres are there because their parents, not they, are asylum seekers; they may have been born and lived their entire lives in Ireland.

The meagre allowance leaves many in circumstances of extreme income poverty, the report says.

This results in “significant material deprivation”, with many families unable to buy toys or pay for outings for special occasions.

The report’s author, Samantha Arnold, a children’s officer with the council, said the conditions in which the children lived amounted to “child abuse and neglect”.

The chief executive of children’s charity Barnardos, Fergus Finlay, who launched the report, said the history of institutionalised care for children in Ireland was one of tragedy, abuse and neglect.

“The system of direct provision is another example of our failure to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” he said.

Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness said the report demonstrated the failure of the State to vindicate children’s rights, and the family life rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Barnardos is an Atlantic grantee.

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