The aim of the DRP has, from the beginning, been to befriend, advise and support asylum seekers/refugees in our area, focusing on their educational, social and integration needs. Since our establishment, all people involved with the DRP have been volunteers. We do not rent any office space, as it is our policy that all activities should be undertaken on a voluntary basis. Instead, volunteers have operated visiting hostel accommodation, under- taking outreach visits and running a drop-in centre in the premises of another community group. In this way, we have been able to ensure that all the funding received is spent directly on support activities.
Since 2001, we have focused on areas including:
Education and training (both through the direct provision of language and literacy courses and through encouraging people to attend formal educational courses)
Providing friendship and support through social recreational and cultural activities
Advocating on behalf of people seeking asylum with the relevant authorities on issues such as welfare, health, the asylum determination process, prison visits and other legal matters
Networking with governmental and non-governmental organizations and groups dealing with the issue of asylum
Encouraging integration through celebrating the achievements of people seeking asylum and raising awareness about their situation.
The achievement of which we are proudest is the fact that the DRP has grown to include people, as members and on the Committee, from a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds: some have come through the asylum process and have first-hand experience of all this entails; some were born and raised in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown; and some have come from other parts of Ireland and the global north. Regardless of our nationality at birth, we have in common a firm commitment to the concepts of integration and empowerment. We see these as critical to ensuring a more just and equitable society for all, irrespective of immigration status, and to creating the kind of community of which we are proud to be part.
In 2001, a group of people who lived in Dún Laoghaire met to consider how to help the refugees and asylum seekers from many different countries who were then coming to live in the area.
This initiative did not come out of the blue. Already people had been doing work to help the newcomers, under the auspices of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Dún Laoghaire. But the time seemed ripe for a permanent local organisation to support the new arrivals.
The first of what were to become regular Monday drop-in evenings took place in the Old School House Hostel in May 2001. Following a number of meetings, the Dún Laoghaire Refugee Project (DRP) was set up in June. Our objective was to offer friendship, advice and help to the refugees and asylum seekers who had come to live among us, and the DRP was incorporated as a charity.
In our work as a voluntary body, our most important support from the start has been the great good will and practical help of the local community: Dún Laoghaire people can be proud of the welcome they gave, and continue to give, the new arrivals.
During the ten years of our work, people seeking asylum in Ireland have had to cope with a succession of changes in refugee law and in official policy and practice. The DRP has held that the overriding objective must always be to ensure that refugees are granted international protection as specified in the Geneva Refugee Convention. In the case of young people, we believe their rights as children must supersede all other rights.
In Dún Laoghaire, the most noticeable change over the past ten years has been the closure of all four hostels. Several thousand asylum seekers passed through these hostels while they were open: the Old School House alone accommodated more than 1,600 residents in the period 2000 - 2005.
During this period, there have also been huge changes within the system, which have had an enormous impact on people seeking asylum. Foremost among these was the introduction of a system of direct provision. Gradually introduced from April 2000 by the Department of Justice, the policy replaced social welfare cash benefits with full board and lodging and a weekly allowance of €19.10 for all adult asylum seekers and €9.60 for dependent children. The policy was not put into effect fully in Dún
Laoghaire until 2005 with the closure of the Old School House. Prior to this, residents of the Old School House and Sandycove House got Supplementary Welfare Allowances of a little over €100 each week. This enabled them to pay for travel, clothing and food, which they then cooked for themselves: in this way, they could follow their national and religious dietary preferences. The change to direct provision therefore brought a range of hardships for those affected.
A further major change was the ending of automatic acceptance of claims from non-Irish national parents for leave to remain on the basis of an Irish-born child, as of 19th February 2003. This was followed in 2004 by a constitutional referendum that ended the automatic right of children born in Ireland to citizenship.
Other changes included the removal of certain types of social welfare assistance for those still in the asylum determination process: for instance, asylum seekers became ineligible for rent supplement in 2003. Under the “habitual residence” requirement, parents of children no longer qualified automatically for Child Benefit Allowances as of 1st May 2004. In 2009, the Department of Justice announced that it would disperse separated young people outside of Dublin as soon as they reached 18 years of age. All of these changes combined to make the situation of people within the asylum process difficult, unstable and extremely stressful.
Asylum seekers began to arrive in Ireland in the 1990s in significant numbers. From 31 asylum applications in 1991, the number had grown to 11,634 by 2002.
In Dún Laoghaire, the Old School House in Eblana Avenue – once a national school and then a tourist hostel - became the first hostel to accommodate asylum seekers when it opened in 2000. Shortly afterwards Sandycove House (the former Mirabeau restaurant) on the seafront at Newtownsmith became the second hostel. For a short period accommodation was also provided in the Rosepark Hotel at Baker’s Corner, Kilmarnock House on Military Road, Killiney and Glandore Lodge at Mounttown.
The asylum seekers came from countries very different from our own. We met people seeking refuge from disturbed countries like Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Rwanda, Nigeria, Angola, Iraq, Gaza in Palestine, and many others. In many of these countries violations of human rights were, and still are, the norm.
Dún Laoghaire was one of the places chosen by the authorities to house separated children, some as young as fourteen years of age. Separated children are young people under the age of 18 who arrive in Ireland seeking asylum unaccompanied by either a parent or guardian. In the Old School House Hostel, both families and separated children were accommodated initially. Sandycove House accommodated 70 separated children with no adult supervision.
When the DRP began ten years ago, a number of priorities were identified. Volunteers worked with the young people to provide support for their educational, accommodation, health and welfare needs. Ensuring that they could access their rights and entitlements was another priority, and we found that there were many gaps in this area. Our first Annual Report records the representations made by the DRP to local politicians outlining serious concerns at the lack of official supervision of the
separated children in the two hostels: in Dún Laoghaire there were only two designated East Coast Area Health Board (ECAHB) Project Workers responsible for 70 of these children at the Old School House and another 70 at Sandycove House.
Advocacy on behalf of separated children has always been a priority for the DRP. For us these vulnerable young people include those seeking as well as those granted asylum, and those under 18 as well as those between 18 and 25. The official term for those who turn 18 is “aged-out”. We have always held that such young people do not suddenly become less vulnerable and less in need of help, simply because, on one particular day in their lives, they turn 18. As we said in our Annual Report 2003, while legally adulthood may arrive on a young person’s 18th birthday, the coming of age mentally, physically and from the point of view of practical needs is a far more complex process.
When the DRP began its work in 2001, the largest concentration of separated children seeking asylum was in the Dublin area, some 657 in all. These were mainly accommodated in privately-run hostels, many of which also accommodated adults. The ECAHB – now the Health Service Executive (HSE) - coordinated a service located in Baggot Street Hospital, to oversee their care.
In 2001, DRP volunteers came together every Monday evening at the Old School House hostel to meet with the residents, to listen to difficulties, to give advice on welfare, housing and legal matters, to help to draw up plans for children’s education and, in particular, to show friendship and solidarity. Young people from Sandycove House also came to the Old School House for guidance.
We met in the main ground floor room beside the reception and close to the kitchen and, as it was meal-time, there was always a great mixture of cooking smells and talk and laughter of parents and children. The friendly atmosphere, due in large measure to influence and attitude of the manager and staff, is something we recall with gratitude and pleasure. The manager took a personal interest in all his charges and helped them, comforted them, encouraged them and chased the teenagers off to school in the mornings! During this period, there were about 220 asylum seekers living in Dún Laoghaire. Of these, 140 were separated children and the remainder were single adults and parents with children.
One of the important responsibilities we undertook in those early days was to see that the separated children were enrolled in school. In the year from August 2002 to September 2003, the DRP was responsible for placing over 150 young people either in schools or in language and literacy classes run by the Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The HSE’s social work team referred their charges in Dún Laoghaire to the DRP for placement in local schools.
Throughout this time, very positive links were established with the principals of eleven secondary schools in the Dún Laoghaire and South Dublin areas, and liaison with these schools enabled placement of all separated children seeking secondary education. For those who needed to learn and improve their literacy or English language skills, the VEC College at Ballsbridge ran a one-year course from September 2002, which was attended by 30 separated children. In addition, Youthreach (part of the national programme for early school leavers aged 15 to 20) enrolled a number of others.
The DRP had access to a room in a nearby house on Eblana Avenue until the end of 2006. It was there that we organised literacy and English language classes in January 2002 with three tutors and with funding from Southside Partnership. A year later, these students were transferred to a formal course set up by the VEC at Sallynoggin.
In September 2003, the VEC appointed an Education Co-ordinator for Separated Children. By the end of the year the Co-ordinator had taken over the role of assessing newcomers.
The DRP organised a group of ten “aged-out” young people to take a Care Assistant professional certificate course at Dún Laoghaire College of Further Education (DLCFE) during the academic year 2004-2005. The course proved highly successful and all ten participants were awarded certificates.
That was the beginning of our Post-Leaving Certificate Education and Training Programme which continues very successfully to the present time.
From 2002 to 2004 Barnardos ran a very successful project at the Old School House, with a crèche for young mothers, a homework club for school students and supervised computer classes for parents. It also ran a summer programme for the young people.
The United Nations marks the 20th of June every year to draw attention to the position of refugees world-wide. The DRP, with the help of Barnardos, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council and the young asylum seekers, organised a celebration of diversity at the seaside park at Newtownsmith opposite the former Sandycove House hostel on the 22nd June 2003. The Cathaoirleach of DLRCC and Ms Pia Prutz-Phiri, Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke at the event, which attracted a large audience. This was the first such World Refugee Day celebration in Dún Laoghaire, which has continued each year since.
An important and very popular part of our programme during this period
involved the organisation and funding of many activities for the hostel residents. These were of enormous benefit to the physical and mental wellbeing of the participants. Amongst the activities undertaken were:
Hill walking in County Wicklow
Visits to the cinema
Outings to Dublin city
Irish dancing at Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann
The Gardaí in Dún Laoghaire assisted with transport for many outings.
Things began to change dramatically in 2003, a year of “discontinuity and uncertainty about the future” [Annual Report 2003] for the asylum seekers. Early in the year, all two-parent families were transferred from Dún Laoghaire. In June, Sandycove House was closed for redevelopment of the site and most of the minors there were transferred to the Old School House. In September, young single mothers were transferred to houses in Lucan, Ranelagh, and Rathgar. In December some of the “aged-out” were transferred to Kilmarnock House. During the following 18 months, others (over 18) were accommodated at Viking Lodge, Frances Street, Dublin 8 and Morehampton Lodge, where they came under the direct provision regime. In April 2005 the remaining residents in the Old School House were transferred and it closed down.
In 2003, the DRP informed the authorities of our concern at the disruptive effect on the young people of the move to direct provision hostels: such hostels did not have the support systems available in Dún Laoghaire and access to education was becoming increasingly restrictive. Ultimately, the official position was that these “aged-out” young people were permitted to remain at school up to Leaving Certificate (which had to be passed at the first attempt) but after that they could not access further education or training without paying fees.
For those moved to Kilmarnock House in particular, the transfer was unsettling and disruptive. At the beginning of 2004, in addition to thirty “aged-out” young people, the hostel housed over 100 adults, many of whom were parents with children. Early in 2004, Southside Partnership commissioned and funded a needs analysis and proposed an action plan to help the residents.
The DRP continued to meet with asylum seekers at the Old School House every Monday evening and on Thursday evenings in Kilmarnock House until the closure of these hostels.
A high point in the year 2004 was the private visit made on 2nd December to the Old School House by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. This was at the invitation of the DRP with the full approval of the manager of the hostel. Representatives of the HSE also greeted the President. The excitement and happiness of the young people was evident and the youngest resident (aged 15) presented President McAleese with an African sculpture to remind her of her visit. The DRP and all concerned we're deeply grateful for her support.
In April 2005, the Old School House was closed as a hostel. Many young people who had lived in the Dún Laoghaire hostels had been coming for advice on Monday evenings to the Old School House and the DRP was aware of the need to continue this contact. Following the closure, and with the assistance of Southside Partnership, the DRP contacted the Dún Laoghaire Community Training Centre (DLCTC) who generously offered their premises each Monday night, and so the DRP Drop-in meetings came into being. The first meeting took place in May 2005: these Monday evening Drop-in meetings have taken place at the DLCTC ever since.
Those who come are young “aged-out” asylum seekers, some “graduates” of the Dún Laoghaire hostels, some with legal residence and others still seeking asylum after many years here. They in turn bring along friends and new-comers in the same category. They are mainly aged between 18 and 25 years, but a small number of those under 18 also attend.
From January 2006 to the present, an average of between 25 and 30 young people come every Monday from all over Dublin city and beyond, with a total of 250 on the register. This attendance shows that the young people appreciate the opportunity to meet in an informal, relaxed atmosphere, to mix with friends, receive information, advice and help from the DRP and from each other, to organise social and cultural events and to get away from the isolation of privately-run hostels.
Commencing in 2006, and ongoing ever since, the Garda Community Liaison Officers from Dún Laoghaire and Cabinteely have organised and developed their “Get Wise Programme” for the young people. The DRP has built on this programme, to form our “Life and Work Programme” which includes personal development, advice on finding and keeping work, tenant-landlord relations, current affairs in Ireland, Irish citizenship and the rights and duties of citizens and residents in a democratic society. The programme also includes guidance on how to deal with racism. Guest speakers are regularly invited.
After the amendment to the Constitution in 2004, non-Irish national parents of children born in Ireland before 1st January 2005 could apply for permission to remain in the state. The DRP assisted parents living in Kilmarnock House to complete the application forms before the cut-off date at the end of March 2005.
In 2005, a number of the single “aged-out” young people whose claims to be granted refugee status had been unsuccessful asked the DRP for advice on making a submission to the Minister for Justice. They requested arrangements similar to those for parents of an Irish-born child: they were 14-18 years old when they first arrived in Ireland, had attended school, made friends, put down roots here and asked for Leave to Remain with the opportunity to continue their education, contribute their skills and energy to the Irish economy and build their lives. The total number throughout the country was estimated to be between 200 and 250. This campaign continued during 2006 and 2007 and to date many of this group have been granted Leave to Remain.
The DRP feels strongly that this group of young people should be allowed to study for and gain a recognised practical qualification. If they become resident in Ireland, they will be better equipped to earn a living and contribute to society. If they leave Ireland, they will not have wasted valuable years of their young lives. Statistics set out in our Annual Reports show the numbers of students supported financially as follows:
2005 (20) at a cost of € 6,400
2006 (36) at a cost of €29,000
2007 (41) at a cost of €23,000
2008 (47) at a cost of €35,600
2009 (41) at a cost of €29,000
2010 (31) at a cost of €29,000
These figures include college fees, transport costs and some books and materials.
We would at this point like to acknowledge the wonderful financial support which we have received and continue to receive from our many generous donors and supporters.
The courses undertaken are mainly at VEC Colleges in Dún Laoghaire and Dublin with a number also at University and Institutes of Technology. The high number of passes and distinctions shows the commitment of the young students. In 2010, one young man, sponsored by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, obtained a First Class Honours Master’s Degree at Dublin City University.
The DRP were delighted to be in a position to avail of funding for the publication of two research documents, both of which are available on the website;
Opening Doors – Evaluation of the Dún Laoghaire Refugee Project’s Drop-In Centre for young people seeking asylum and those with residency (2008)
Opened Doors – research into Challenges of former Separated Children Seeking Asylum who have been granted Refugee Status or Leave to Remain (2010)
The Report of The Ombudsman for Children’s Office (Report on Separated Children Living in Ireland, 2009), similar reports, and our own experience have signalled the need for urgent reform of the treatment of separated children seeking asylum. As a result of this concern, the HSE stated in November 2009 that they were “working to phase out the use of hostel accommodation before December 2010, and develop ongoing appropriate care services at local and national level for Separated Children Seeking Asylum”: most such children were to be placed in foster or residential care, including supported lodgings. This policy is in force since January 2011.
The DRP has noted, with approval, the change in policy, but has called for the following:
a) The necessary time to be taken to find suitable foster families to ensure the children’s protection.
b) The appointment of a dedicated social worker for every child placed in foster care.SEPARATED YOUNG PEOPLE FROM 18 TO 25 YEARS - THE NEED FOR COMPREHENSIVE AFTERCARE SUPPORT.
As of June 2009, separated young people (with some exceptions) are dispersed to hostels run by the Department of Justice outside Dublin on reaching the age of 18. Those sitting Leaving Certificate examinations may remain in Dublin until completion of the exams.
A number of DRP members have visited Galway, Cork and Waterford to see some of the young people who have been moved there and to ensure that they are linked into local supports.
As regards these young people reaching 18 the DRP expressed to the authorities our serious concern at the lack of adequate support networks and services in a number of the areas of dispersal and the consequences that might result. The DRP wants to see that:
a) every young person, on reaching 18 years of age, should be informed by the HSE of their Individual Care Plan (ICP).
b) The processing of asylum applications of this group (18 years and over) is completed in a reasonable period of time.
The DRP has long drawn attention to the special needs of this vulnerable group between the ages of 18 and 25 years old, and in particular to the recommendation made in the Save the Children - UNHCR Separated Children in Europe Programme (SCEP 2004) that “separated children who become adults during the course of the asylum process (sometimes called “aged out”) continue to benefit from the same special procedures as those under 18 years of age”. [Statement of Good Practice, par.12.2.2.]
There is need for “comprehensive aftercare planning for all separated children in the care of the State”.
Violations of human rights, civil unrest, conflict and hardship continue to cause people to seek refuge by travelling long distances across international frontiers in a globalised world. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are some 43 million people who have been forcibly displaced worldwide over 71 countries. These include 15 million refugees and almost a million asylum seekers, of whom almost 19,000 are unaccompanied and separated children. Thus the issue of refugees remains of great humanitarian concern internationally and so also for us in Ireland.
As to the role of the DRP in the period ahead, we will continue our efforts to help those mainly in the 18 to 25 year age group. Our emphasis will be towards enhancing their job and promotion prospects through further education, helping them to seek and hold jobs, building cross-community links with young Irish people and ensuring their integration as future citizens in the community – all in an increasingly difficult Irish economic environment.
To all of the DRP Volunteers we are deeply grateful. Without their dedication, concern and commitment so much would not have been achieved.
Our Annual Reports give the names of the many organisations and others who have helped us over the years. The DRP and the young people coming to our Drop-in will always remember with immense gratitude your generosity, assistance, advice and support.
The above is an excerpt from The Story of the Dún Laoghaire Refugee Project, published on our tenth anniversary in 2011, the full publication complete with stories written by a number of the young people we have come to know over the last 10 years can be found here.