Yesterday, three families of asylum seekers were granted leave to challenge the system of direct provision in the High Court. In a blog post last week on direct provision, I noted how the Minister for Justice in some ways side stepped the child protection concerns raised by communal direct provision centres. Minister Shatter stated that any child protection concerns were due to wayward parents or guardians not taking proper care of their children. Minister Shatter’s remark reminded me of a document I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The document, dated 17 June 2008, is disturbing. You can access a redacted version of this document here: Direct Provision & Family Life. I have redacted identifying features, place names, including names of departmental officials involved in this ‘process’.
This is the story:
An asylum seeker arrived in a large Irish city in January 2004. The asylum seeker was dispersed to a town. The asylum seeker had a relationship. A child was born. The child was an Irish citizen. The asylum seeker was still living in direct provision for over 3 and a half years. At some point the relationship with the child’s mother broke down. The asylum seeker was granted access by a court to the child. The Reception and Integration Agency said that the asylum seeker could live in the large Irish city in a self catering accommodation unit, and get full rate supplementary welfare allowance (minus €18). This was over 200km away from the asylum seeker’s child and he did not want to move. The asylum seeker asked a community welfare officer (then employed by the HSE) for a full rate of supplementary welfare allowance so he could live outside of the direct provision system. The HSE Appeals Officer for that region asked the Department of Social Protection what was to be done. The Appeals Officer is anxious:
I think this individual is availing of legal advice….He is quoting basic human rights for children without discrimination….
The HSE Appeals Office “would welcome” the “views and any guidance” available from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The response of the Department to this ‘brain teaser’ (emphasis added):
The person concerned is an asylum seeker….He is not entitled to any social welfare payments….his immediate needs are catered for by Direct Provision…
The fact that the direct provision arrangements available to him do not suit his personal circumstances does not give him any entitlement to a social welfare or SWA payment.
Seeking to maintain an ongoing relationship and access to a child is deemed a ‘personal circumstance’. The rights of the child to have visits with his/her father not even considered. Something that is not to be facilitated or encouraged, as it does not fit into the direct provision system. We do not know what the HSE Appeals Officer ultimately decided. I wonder what other ‘brain teasers’ there were/are that emerge from direct provision?