Study: Refugees isolated in hostels

ALMOST 7,000 people living in Government-funded hostel accommodations are socially excluded, isolated and at risk of exploitation, a major study has found.

The report, One Size Doesn’t Fit All, carried out by Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), examines in detail the system of direct provision, whereby asylum seekers are effectively cut off from society and forced to live by stringent rules and regulations in privately run state-funded accommodation on about €19 a week.

FLAC’s legal analysis of direct provision, launched today, has come to the conclusion the system is deeply flawed and made to suit the people running it, not the needs of those who must live in it.

Initially, it was intended that a person would not spend more than six months in the system but now more than half the residents in these centres have lived there for more than two years. Some people remain in the accommodation for many years.

It highlights serious safety concerns for single women as there is not even one dedicated facility catering for women, who in some cases may be young, alone and vulnerable.

It also found children living in these centres – of which there are 54 – are at an educational disadvantage.

“Due to the nature of the direct provision system, the reception and integration agency reserves the right to transfer residents without consent or prior notice. In many instances, people are only informed of the proposed transfer shortly before it takes place.”

FLAC maintains this can have a “devastating effect” on young children or adolescents who have formed relationships with schoolmates or who have settled in and are performing well at a particular school.

The report also highlights that Ireland is only one of two EU states which does not allow asylum seekers to work after a certain period of time if a final decision has not been reached on their applications for protection.

The report said the effect this has on someone living in these centres can be profound as they are not entitled to any social welfare benefits.

When asked by FLAC about the effect of living in direct provision without access to social welfare entitlements such as child benefit, one resident said: “We are psychologically affected. We’re stagnant and can’t move. It also means I can’t provide for my children.”

Another resident summed up the children’s feelings of social exclusion: “The children are left in the accommodation centre from January to December without interacting; it’s not that they do not want to interact but because they cannot afford to. Sometimes my children will ask for something and it is so sad for me that I cannot afford to give it to them.”

The report also looks in detail at the financing of the sector and how 47 of the 54 centres are privately owned.

Three of the biggest companies account for more than 40% of the total capacity for accommodating people in commercially owned direct provision facilities.

The report concludes that in the absence of abolishing the system, a number of urgent reforms should be carried out.

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