Way we treat asylum seekers will be State's next apology
I tried to arrange a visit to one of these extraordinarily expensive centres, paid for with public money. I rang a mother of two primary school children who lived in one of the better ones.
“Oh, you cannot visit,” she said. “There are signs on the stairs ‘No Visitors’.”
Her children have never been allowed to have a schoolmate over for a playdate, and ask questions about this a lot.
In the corridors she sees other children playing at imitating sexual intercourse, which she assumes they have seen at close quarters, as each family gets just one room in this centre, which is a converted hotel. “We have our own bathroom, thank God.”
No one says that this environment is abusive or that there is cruelty. But it is demeaning and humiliating and, above all, bad for children.
Last year Nils Muiznieks, the European commissioner for human rights, said in his report on Ireland that “asylum seekers, in particular children, are spending a long time in facilities designed for short-term accommodation”. The Government responded by saying there was legislation on asylum seekers in the pipeline.
The woman I spoke to, whose family has spent seven years living with her children in one hotel room, seems pretty clear-eyed about both the management of the facility – “ the manager tries, in fairness” – and her fellow occupants: “We’re all depressed. We are full of envy and frustration. We’re living too close. It’s like the Big Brother house.”
She lives on a payment of €19 per week and relieves the monotony each day by doing voluntary work. Interestingly, in the week when the nation regretted a system which preferred its women to be permanently penitent and supplicatory, she says that she was told that her application for asylum was turned down after her second interview “because they said I didn’t show enough fear of persecution going back to my old country. I don’t know if it would have been different if I had come in shaking and bleeding.”
It took the Magdalene women 50 years to push their way on to the news agenda. It took the former residents of the industrial schools just as long. It looks like we’re going to have to wait until the Irish children of asylum seekers are old enough to write novels and films and television documentaries ( to be shown on British television stations) about their blighted childhoods before we, the public, begin to look at how these families are living in our country at the moment.