Report: Children living in direct provision face serious racism

Report: Children living in direct provision face serious racism
The Ombudsman for Children's Office has compiled a report about children's experiences of living direct provision. File image: Black Lives Matter protest in Cork City on Saturday, July 4, 2020.Picture: Larry Cummins

Children who live in direct provision are facing racism and discrimination in school and in their community, as well as facing issues around privacy and lack of space in the centres they live in.

The findings were revealed in a new report called 'Direct Division', compiled by the Ombudsman for Children's Office. 

Children aged from 12 to 17, who are living in nine centres around Ireland, were involved in the study.

There were reports of bullying related to race, religion and nationality in school. Black children reported being called the n word and Muslim children reported being called terrorists. 

Social media was frequently used to engage in the bullying. 

One child recalled their experience of racism on a school trip: "There was [a] school trip and it was going past the [accommodation] centre and one person on the bus said 'Oh the zoo is coming'. They think we are like animals...There was a friend of mine who was on the bus who actually lived here, but she pretended she didn't."

Teachers were often seen by the children as not standing up for them when their peers were expressly or covertly racist or sectarian. 

Children also reported that some teachers expressed racist or discriminatory sentiments themselves, or were covertly racist. 

Teachers were reported as knowing little about what it meant to be an asylum seeker or what living in direct provision accommodation is like and the restrictions it placed on the children.

However, there were also some positive reports where the schools made extra efforts to recognise and celebrate the children's culture and ethnicity by allowing hijabs to be worn, setting up a prayer room, hosting a multicultural day and providing halal food in the canteen.  

Many children also experienced discrimination in their local communities. They talked about hearing racist comments such as "go back to your country".

One child said: "A friend said 'Irish people are paying for everything for you' and that made me feel uncomfortable. I am not used to people giving me everything. I felt confused and I did not want anyone to see me living here. I felt sad because it is not my choice to be here. If I could get papers and if I didn’t have troubles in my own country, I would not be here. I felt scared because she knows where I live'."

However, some children said that local community groups, sports clubs and youth clubs had made an effort to involve them in activities. 

Many of the children felt isolated and different due to the geographical location of the centres they were staying in. They also reported there was poor transport for them. 

This limited their opportunities to partake in after school activities or hobbies, with many only able to go to school and return to the centre.  

The children also felt like they had no privacy and also noted they had no space to play: "We share rooms and we can’t lock them, the management just walk into the rooms... we worry they will tell RIA (Reception and Integration Agency) if our rooms aren’t clean."

However, some children said despite living in direct provision, they were grateful to be in Ireland: "I came from the worst conditions and I am so more than grateful that I am here. 

"I thank God every single day that I am here... even though these people are making it miserable sometimes, but I am grateful we are in a safe place, it is the most important thing. Like imagine being scared to go to school, imagine being scared of being bombed or shot or kidnapped."

Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre based in Cork, said it was "deeply concerning, although entirely unsurprising, to see how growing up in segregated accommodation, outside of the community and with minimal financial support, leads to children feeling othered and stigmatised.

"The concerns raised in the report about travelling to school, their inability to go participate in after school activities were all flagged by the McMahon report. The level of racism experienced by children is incredibly disturbing. 

"It was heart-breaking to see that school, which is often described a refuge and a place of normality for children, became a place where they experienced exclusion and racism and that children went from these experiences at school to homes in direct provision centres where they felt under constant surveillance.

"This report is incredibly timely given the commitment to ending direct provision in the Programme for Government. Protecting the well being of children should be at the heart of any new reception system. 

"However, in the meantime, we need to ensure that the National Standards for Accommodation Centres are implemented as soon as possible. We urgently need an independent inspection process to ensure that these standards are being met. 

"It was interesting that the number one issue for children are the delays in their asylum application processes. Nasc’s concern is that those delays will have been further exacerbated by the necessary halt in case processing during the Covid-19 restrictions. 

"We need to ensure that additional resources are now provided to clear the backlog of cases and this can and should be done immediately.

"Finally, it is clear that much work needs to be done on anti-racism in schools. Schools can and should be a safe place for all children."

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