Special reception needs of vulnerable groups

Republic of Ireland

Author

Irish Refugee Council

There is no legislation on reception conditions in Ireland, nor are there any provisions to identify or assess special reception needs of vulnerable people. The one exception is unaccompanied children, who are not accommodated in reception centres until after they turn 18. They are taken into the care of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla and accommodated in foster home settings and small residential units. If the young person is deemed to be an adult they are placed in Direct Provision.

Geoffrey Shannon the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection stated in 2012, in his report to the Irish Parliament, that research was needed on the specific vulnerability of children accommodated in Direct Provision and the potential or actual harm which is being created by the particular circumstances of their residence including the inability of parents to properly care for and  protect their children and the damage that may be done by living for a lengthy period of time in an institutionalised setting which was not designed for long term residence.1

In May 2015 the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) published a report on its inspection of the child protection and welfare services provided to children living in direct provision accommodation in four of the Child and Family Service Areas. On the publication of the report, Mary Dunnion, Director of Regulation of HIQA said:

“The Authority has grave concerns about the high number of children living in direct provision centres who have been referred to The Child and Family Agency. Approximately 14% of the population of children living in direct provision were referred to the Child and Family Agency in one year which is a significantly higher referral rate than for the general child population of 1.6%.”2

Among some of the welfare and protection concerns raised they included: welfare referrals made on the basis of the physical or mental illness of the parent impacting on their capacity to look after the child, a lack of clothes and toys and protection referrals made on the basis of exposure to incidents of domestic violence, physical abuse due to excessive physical chastisement and the  proximity of children to unknown adults living on the same site and inappropriate contact by adults towards some children.3

On the basis of the report HIQA made the following recommendations to the Child and Family Agency (TUSLA):

  • Develop an inter-cultural strategy to inform the provision of social services to ethnic minority children and families;


  • Complete an audit to ensure there are no children at risk of harm because of outstanding or incomplete assessments due to the movement of families between accommodation centres;


  • Ensure effective interagency and inter-professional co-operation with key stakeholders to ensure decisions consider the best interests of children; and


  • Gather information on referrals to their services about children in direct provision accommodation to inform strategic planning.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, issued a press release in response to the HIQA report findings stating that it accepts some areas need improvement and they were focused on a rapid improvement programme in certain areas such as Laois/Offaly and Louth/Meath area. It stated that it was preparing an Action Plan in response to the report to be submitted to HIQA.4 The Children’s Rights Alliance also issued a press release in response to the HIQA report noting that the report was significant in that it was the first time that an official body with inspection powers was able to shed some light on children’s lives in Direct Provision.5 In terms of children accessing individual complaints mechanisms with the Ombudsman for children, previously children in Direct Provision were denied access to that procedure. All complaints went through the manager of each Direct Provision centre. However, it was recently announced that in April 2017 the Ombudsman for children will be in the position to accept individual complaints from children in Direct Provision. Dr. Niall Muldoon welcomed this announcement and stated that “Children in Direct Provision will now have equal access to the Ombudsman for Children’s Office. This will enable my Office to make a constructive contribution to the overall welfare of children living in Direct Provision accommodation.”6

There are no provisions in practice that take into account the needs of vulnerable persons and there are no special reception conditions.7 Upon arrival, it is standard practice for all applicants for asylum to be offered medical screening as well as access to a General Practitioner (doctor), public health nurse and psychological services. Applicants may be assigned to certain subsequent reception facilities as a result e.g. near a particular medical facility or in the case of a disability.8 It should be noted that under the IRPP for relocated and resettled refugees, however, it is reported that a vulnerability assessment is undertaken as part of the security clearance stage of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. It is not known what this vulnerability assessment consists of in practice.9

There are no special facilities for traumatised asylum seekers. In October 2014 the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) published a report on sexual violence experienced by asylum seekers and refugees and found that the Direct Provision system not only exacerbated the trauma for survivors but also left individuals living in the system vulnerable to sexual violence.10 The RCNI called for the immediate reform of the Direct Provision system and the provision of psycho-social supports to families of survivors of sexual violence among other recommendations.11 In response to a parliamentary question raised on this report, Ms. Frances Fitzgerald stated that a number of recommendations in the report are in train including the procurement of training for staff which is underway along with the establishment of a women only centre when refurbishment works are completed on a State-owned reception centre.12 Reports were heard of people in Direct Provision turning to precarious work in a bid to supplement the income of €19.10 per week. For example, reports were heard of vulnerable women in Direct Provision falling prey to sexual exploitation and prostitution.13

In addition the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) recommended that the Irish government reviews its policy of accommodating victims of trafficking in Direct Provision centres and consider the setting up of specialised shelters for victims of trafficking.14 At the end of January 2015 RIA was accommodating 65 persons who were identified as alleged victims of trafficking by the Garda Síochána. The majority were protection applicants.15

Geoffrey Shannon, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, highlighted the ‘real risk’ of child abuse in DP arising from the shared sleeping arrangements. He cites an incident where a 14 year old girl became pregnant by a male resident.16 In the seventh report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon called for an immediate review of the Direct Provision system and stated that the main recommendations of the Irish Refugee Council should be adopted and that Ireland should opt into the recast Reception Conditions Directive 2013.17 In 2014 RIA published a child protection and welfare policy and practice document but it is unclear if this is fully abided by in practice.18

Families are generally accommodated together in the same accommodation centre. There have been no reports of members of the same family being required to live in different accommodation centres.

In April 2014 RIA published ‘RIA Policy and Practice Document on safeguarding RIA residents against Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence & Harassment’.19 The document states that RIA and the centres under contract to it have a duty of care to all residents which includes a duty to provide safe accommodation which promotes the well-being of all of its residents. The document also describes the reporting structures, procedures and the record keeping required for an incident of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and harassment. The policy was based on the discussions of a working group on safeguarding RIA residents against domestic, sexual and gender based violence the membership of which included RIA management and NGOs. RIA states that the policy complements other existing RIA protection policies including its Child Protection Policy. Since 2006 RIA has had a comprehensive Child Protection Policy in place based on the Health Service Executive’s Children First - National Guidelines for the protection and welfare of children. A Child and Family Services unit, in RIA, is well established and its role is to manage, deliver, coordinate, monitor and plan all matters relating to child and family services for all persons residing in RIA accommodation centres and to act as a conduit between RIA and the HSE. 

In terms of identifying vulnerable asylum seekers early in the protection process the Working Group recommended that the existing HSE Health Screening Process be reviewed and strengthened so as to facilitate a multidisciplinary needs assessment at an early stage.20 At the time of writing is unclear if that recommendation has been implemented.

The Irish Refugee Council has stated that the current system ‘does not take into consideration the needs of persons with disabilities’, as well as other vulnerabilities such as families with children and survivors of torture.21 With respect to trafficking victims, EMN research indicated that proactive screening of trafficking victims as opposed to self-reporting, is generally not in evidence within asylum procedures in Ireland. ORAC provides in-house training on the three phrases of trafficking for all relevant front-line staff.22

In terms of gender-sensitive asylum procedures the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has called for the International Protection Act 2015 to be amended to provide the power to the Minister for Justice and Equality to develop statutory guidelines on gender-sensitive approaches to credibility assessment and the promotion of gender equality throughout the international protection process, including in the provision of accommodation.23

The IHREC also called for the Irish government to stop housing trafficked women, both within and outside the asylum system, in Direct Provision centres which is the current practice. The Commission reiterated that direct provision accommodation does not respect the rights of victims of trafficking in human beings and does not comply with the Convention. It recommends that victims of trafficking be accommodated in appropriate single gender facilities with access to the necessary support services, in keeping with the State’s obligations under the CEDAW Convention of prevention and to provide support services to victims.24 The IHREC also noted that there were reports of harassment of refugee women in certain DP centres including catcalling, verbal abuse and men propositioning women for sex. It should be noted that RIA has guidelines on safeguarding RIA residents against sexual harassment and sexual violence which includes information on the reporting structures and procedures but the implementation of these guidelines is questionable.25

  • 1. Geoffrey Shannon, ‘Fifth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection a Report Submitted to the Oireachtas, 2011 Report’.
  • 2. HIQA, ‘Findings of HIQA Inspection of the child protection and welfare services provided to children living in direct provision raises serious concerns’, 25 May 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1FyVVY2; The Irish Times, ‘Safety of children in Direct Provision flagged by report’, 22 May 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1FH73oX.
  • 3. HIQA, Report on inspection of the child protection and welfare services provided to children living in direct provision accommodation under the National Standards for the Protection and Welfare of Children, and Section 8(1)(c) of the Health Act 2007 25 May 2015.
  • 4. TUSLA, Child and Family Agency, Statement on the findings of the HIQA Assurance Programme Report, May 2015 available at: http://bit.ly/1QcenbJ.
  • 5. Children’s Rights Alliance, Children in Direct Provision Forgotten by the State, 25 May 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1ipYuEj.
  • 6. Ombudsman for Children, Children in Direct Provision will now share equal rights with other children in Ireland, February 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2lNMwaY.
  • 7. Corona Joyce and Emma Quinn, The Economic and Social Research Institute, ‘The Organisation of Reception Facilities for Asylum Seekers’, February 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1IklPkR.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Irish Refugee Protection Programme, Expression of Interests Sought, available at: http://bit.ly/2n594DB.
  • 10. The Irish Times, ‘Direct Provision System poses risk of sexual violence – report’, 29 October 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1FV9cL4.
  • 11. Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Asylum Seekers and Refugees Surviving On Hold – sexual violence disclosed to Rape Crisis Centres, October 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1tHj71C.
  • 12. Ms. Frances Fitzgerald, Minister, Department of Justice and Equality, written answer to the parliament question of Ruth Coppinger, Department of Justice and Equality, Asylum Support Services, 5 November 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1HLhUvV.
  • 13. The Irish Times, ‘Minister “shocked” by reports of direct provision prostitution’, Mary Minihan, 2 September 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1CWz2Qr.
  • 14. Council of Europe, Committee of the Parties to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, Recommendation CP(2013)9 on the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by Ireland, available at: http://bit.ly/1g85mG3.
  • 15. Working Group to report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, Final Report June 2015, fn. 280, para 4.206, 195.
  • 16. Geoffrey Shannon, ‘Fifth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection A Report Submitted to the Oireachtas, 2011 Report’, available at: http://bit.ly/1MKcra5.
  • 17. Dr, Geoffrey Shannon. Seventh Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, A Report Submitted to the Oireachtas, 2014; Irish Refugee Council, The IRC welcomes the Seventh Annual Report of Ireland’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, 2 December 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1LFiZb6.
  • 18. RIA, Child Protection and Welfare Policy and Practice Document for Reception and Integration Agency and Centres under Contract to RIA, October 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1SLHPvA.
  • 19. Reception and Integration Agency, ‘RIA Policy and Practice Document on safeguarding RIA residents against Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence & Harassment’, April 2014.
  • 20. Working Group to report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, Final Report June 2015, para 46, 21 available at: http://bit.ly/1LSZc6j.
  • 21. Irish Refugee Council, ‘Direct Provision and Dispersal: Is there an alternative?’ Report prepared for the NGO Forum on Direct Provision, 2011, available at: http://bit.ly/1InP4VP.
  • 22. Corona Joyce, Emma Quinn, European Migration Network, Identifying Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings in Asylum and Forced Return Procedures: Ireland, April 2014.
  • 23. IHREC, Ireland and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, Submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on Ireland’s combined sixth and seventh periodic reports, January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2lAMB4T.
  • 24. Ibid, p. 69.
  • 25. Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), Policy and Practice Document on safeguarding residents against Domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and harassment, April 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/2lvYqK0.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti