The following letter to the Taoiseach (Prime Minister of Ireland) and Minister for Equality and Integration was penned by Psychologists for Social Change Ireland. The letter calls for the end of the Direct Provision system for accommodating those seeking asylum in the Republic of Ireland. You can read more about this system, which has been heavily criticised by human rights groups here and here. The letter is a living document which has been covered in the Irish press. It has been signed by 150 applied and research psychologists to date.
Open letter to the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O'Gorman
Dear Taoiseach and Minister,
We are a group of applied and research psychologists practising in Ireland who believe that direct provision must be promptly dismantled and replaced with a more humane and ethical alternative. We wish to express our solidarity with those seeking asylum on our shores.
Our nation has a responsibility to protect those who come to Ireland seeking refuge from persecution, famine and war. We observe that the direct provision system has barely met the basic physiological needs of these individuals and families, while causing untold psychological harm. We are concerned by the many systemic barriers which deny those living in direct provision the dignity of fully participating in Irish society. Bulelani Mfaco of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland has explained how this system “eats away at your humanity”. As a country we must do better.
We are horrified by tragic reports of deaths and suicides. Five years ago, Minister Frances Fitzgerald confirmed that 61 people died while in direct provision between 2002 and 2014. Shamefully, this included the deaths of 16 children under the age of five. We know of more people who have died in direct provision since the government stopped publishing this data.
People seek asylum to escape traumatic and unbearable situations. As psychologists, we know that before someone can process and recover from a traumatic event, the event itself must have ended. However, direct provision actually perpetuates trauma for individuals and families, who often spend years trapped in this system, with considerable uncertainty and ambiguity about when their situation might change. Tragically, suicide can occur in the context of hopelessness, when the present is unbearable with no end in sight.
Children require physical and emotional safety in order to reach their full potential. They also need space to learn and play. Parents have spoken out about the immense challenges of raising children within the constraints of the €29.80 weekly allowance per child, and the restrictions imposed by direct provision centres, while teenagers have spoken of the difficulties of growing up without privacy in these confined and often isolated settings. Young people have also told the Ombudsman for Children’s Office about the challenges they can face while living in direct provision, including racism, stigma, bullying and exclusion.
Implementing a system of lesser entitlements upon children in Ireland’s international protection system is contrary to the state’s obligations as a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Irish Refugee Council has described how children in direct provision live in “state sanctioned child poverty and exclusion”, while the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection has highlighted inherent safeguarding risks to these children. As psychologists, we recognise that Irish international protection policy requires radical overhaul in order to protect and meet the developmental needs of all children living here.
We welcome the commitment to the abolition of direct provision in the new programme for government. However, if we are serious about tackling the mental health crisis facing asylum seekers in this country, then we must acknowledge that direct provision has itself been a primary cause of this crisis. As psychologists, we see people’s individual struggles in their respective social contexts and are mandated to advocate for social justice. We are aware of the suffering of those who live in direct provision and we stand with them in demanding change.
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