The Migration Research Fair, held in Trinity College Dublin, featured contributions from a number of academics carrying out research in the area of migration.
The day-long event, which was opened by Minister for Integration Conor Lenihan, focused on a number of different areas, including migration issues in the labour market, the education system, social policy and community relations.
However, a number of speakers said the Direct Provision system for asylum seekers was having a negative impact on various aspects of their health, as well as care of children.
Alastair Christie, of the Department of Applied Social Studies in University College Cork, raised the issue of the upcoming Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, which he said would alter the role of social workers in their work with asylum seekers.
Mr Christie said one of the implications of the bill was that social workers would assume more of a “social policing role”.
“The legislation proposes that social workers are required to provide data, to sign documentation and to provide travel documentation for people who are being deported, and if they do not they are open to criminal prosecution,” he said, “whereas they are supposed to be acting in the best interests of the children under the Children Act of 1991”.
Mr Christie added that while fewer children were entering the asylum seeker system than in previous years, the new legislation “raises the question over whether these children are seen primarily as children or as asylum seekers”.
Piaras Mac Einri, of UCC’s Department of Geography, said that Direct Provision was “creating a culture of dependency” that meant people faced difficulties in adapting to life once they moved outside of the system.
The conference also heard that unaccompanied minors who enter Ireland claiming asylum are likely to use religion as a way of coping with the difficulties of life in the asylum system.
Research carried out by Muireann Ní Raghallaigh, of Trinity College Dublin’s School of Social Work and Social Policy, showed that religious faith was a major “coping strategy” for unaccompanied minors, and that immigration authorities should consider granting easier access to churches.
The research, presented at TCD’s Migration Research Fair, looked at how 32 unaccompanied minors dealt with the challenges of living in Ireland’s asylum system.
All bar two of those involved in the study were from Africa, while nine were Muslims and the remainder Christians.
“The research focused on the fact that they are in a very different religious culture, but that they bring their faith with them,” Ms Ni Raghallaigh said.
The 32 minors were aged from 13 to 19 years and at various stages of the asylum process; some had already secured citizenship.
Religious faith was common in all cases.