Child abuse reported at asylum seekers’ hostels

Seven cases of inappropriate sexual behaviour were among 121 incidents involving children at hostels accommodating asylum seekers reported to authorities last year.

The annual report of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) also reveals that the average length of time asylum seekers are housed under the controversial “direct provision” system is continuing to increase, despite sharp declines in the number of people accommodated in State-supported hostels.

Seven cases of inappropriate sexual behaviour, seven cases of physical abuse, and 11 cases of neglect were reported to the agency’s child and family services unit in 2012.

In addition, there were 47 reported incidents of unsupervised children and four incidents of children being taken into care by the HSE.

There were also 89 incidents documented concerning parents, including five incidents of domestic violence, and seven cases where either a parent or child had gone missing.

Last month, Emily O’Reilly, the ombudsman, warned there was a real risk of child abuse in asylum- seekers’ hostels because single-parent families were forced to share rooms with strangers.

The RIA report reveals more than 2,340 residents, representing almost 60% of all asylum seekers, have spent three or more years in RIA accommodation. Almost 850, or 17.6%, have now spent in excess of six years in centres.

Under direct provision — a scheme criticised by human rights groups and former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness — residents are not allowed to work. They receive bed and board plus a weekly payment of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child.

According to the report, the average length of stay among all residents is now almost four years. About a third of all asylum seekers are children.

The RIA was accommodating 4,841 asylum seekers in 35 centres at the end of last year — a decrease of 582 residents or 11% compared to 2011 figures. It represents the fourth straight annual decline when the total number of people in RIA accommodation in 2008 stood at more than 7,000.

The number of new asylum applicants arriving in the Republic has also fallen for a 10th year.

A total of 956 people claimed asylum during 2012 — a decrease of 26% over the previous year.

The number of bed spaces in RIA accommodation centres was reduced by 526 or 9% last year as five hostels were closed, although one new one was opened. The overall cost of direct provision fell by 10% to €62.3m in 2012.

A total of 13 formal complaints were made by residents to the RIA last year of which eight were upheld. Almost one fifth of 48 reports of alleged human trafficking to gardaí in 2012 were filed by asylum seekers.

RIA assisted 213 asylum seekers from the 12 EU accession states to voluntarily return home last year at a cost of just under €58,000.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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