The voices of children living in Direct Provision are finally heard: Ombudsman

Update 8pm: The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, has welcomed the publication today of a consultation with children and young people living in Direct Provision.

The consultation was conducted by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2015. 110 children and young people from 11 centres took part. They were asked what they liked, disliked and would like to change about where they live.

Dr Niall Muldoon

“The views of children and young people living in Direct Provision have been ignored for too long. I very much welcome this consultation as it gives the young people living in the Direct Provision the opportunity to express, in their own words, how they feel about where they live and how they live. This consultation has shown that, as always, there is no better way to find out how children feel, than by asking them directly.

“I’ve always believed that children never ask for more than they need. This makes the simple requests expressed in this consultation even more striking. These children and young people crave normality in their lives; in the food they eat, in their environment and how they are treated.

Dr Muldoon also suggested it was important to note that four out of the five groups of children consulted listed either getting their papers or exiting Direct Provision as things they would like to change.

"While every effort must be made to improve conditions for children and young people living in Direct Provision, we must not forget that Direct Provision was originally set up as an interim measure and that life in Direct Provision is far from normal.

“Until April of this year, there was no avenue for children and young people living in Direct Provision to make a complaint about their living conditions, or indeed about any public service. Since April the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) has finally been able to accept these complaints and we are currently making our way around the country to meet with as many children and families as possible.

“Since beginning this process we have found that many people living in Direct Provision find making a complaint very daunting. Understandably they are fearful that a complaint of any kind, to any organisation, may affect their refugee status. That is not the case.

“We are working to build trust so that children and families know they can come to us. We need to ensure that people have the confidence to come forward and to highlight issues that they feel are negatively impacting on children.

“A number of the issues highlighted by the young people who took part in the consultation feature in some of the complaints received so far by the OCO. We are currently looking into these issues but we have not yet carried out a full investigation into any Direct Provision complaint.”

Earlier: Children in the Direct Provision system in Ireland have described it as unsafe.

A University College Cork report conducted for the Government involved speaking to young aslyum seekers between the ages of eight and 17.

There are currently around 4,800 people living in Direct Provision centres here, while they wait to find out if their applications for asylum have been accepted or rejected.

A quarter of them are under the age of 17 while the vast majority of the children are 12 or younger.

They have told researchers at University College Cork they find life in the hotels, hostels and accommodation centres to be "overcrowded" and "dirty".

They appreciate the recreational facilities, but say older men can take over shared spaces and sometimes "look creepy" at them.

At the moment the State pays their parents €9.60 per child, but the young people say living in poverty means they miss out on school trips and cannot afford new shoes.

The report commissioned by the Government marks the first time children in Direct Provision have been directly consulted about how their lengthy stays there affect their lives.

This morning, the chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA) Tanya Ward welcomed the publication of the report – but warned that is findings are “stark and shocking.”

“It is alarming that children struggled to identify things they liked about their lives and yet could easily discuss about what they did not like,” she said.

“Of deep concern is that children and families report feeling unsafe in Direct Provision, notably when sharing space with single men.

“The safety and welfare of children in Direct Provision cannot be compromised any longer.

“A dedicated child protection and welfare strategy needs to be developed and implemented immediately - as the Children’s Rights Alliance has been calling for some time.”

The CRA has called for the report to be debated by both houses of the Oireachtas as soon as possible and for the recommendations of the government appointed working group on Direct Provision to be implemented.

In particular, the alliance is calling for the Direct Provision payment to be increased to €29.80 – in line with the recommendations.

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