New service will help immigrants
The first dedicated support service for asylum-seeker and refugee families, children and young people has been set up by the Barnardos charity.
The service includes child minding, parent and toddler sessions, English and computer classes, workplace information, activities for young people as well as general advice and support.
The three-year project is based in The Old School House Hostel in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, and is funded by the East Coast Area Health Board, which runs the hostel.
The hostel accommodates families granted the right to live in Ireland as well as about 50 separated children making asylum claims.
The project leader, Ms Margaret Morris, said the new service would be modelled around the needs of the hostel residents.
"The hostel manager, David Hicks, saw a huge need to do something for the children here because they were largely unoccupied and unstimulated sitting in their rooms all day and the parents were under a lot of pressure," she said.
"One of the aims of the project is to help both parents and young people integrate locally."
There are about 360 asylum-seekers and refugees living in the Dún Laoghaire area, including 144 unaccompanied minors.
Meanwhile, refugees are being helped to move out of "direct provision" accommodation centres into private housing under a pilot scheme which is likely to be extended around the State.
"Step-down" accommodation has been provided in three towns to help people given the right to live here make the transition from full-board accommodation under the direct provision system to independent living.
Tenants of the housing facilities in Tralee, Waterford and Drogheda are taken out of direct provision, where they received basic weekly social welfare payments of €19 per adult and had meals and laundry services provided.
Once in the new step-down housing, the former asylum-seekers receive full social welfare benefits and pay reduced rent to the authorities while they try to find private accommodation.
People eligible to live in the new facilities have either been recognised as refugees, and given rights similar to Irish citizens, or have been granted leave to remain on other grounds.
The 190 units of step-down accommodation are provided by the Reception and Integration Agency.
This agency also co-ordinates the provision of accommodation for some 5,000 asylum-seekers in more than 70 locations.
The agency's head, Mr Noel Waters, said the step-down facilities were developed due to difficulties experienced by refugees in the private housing market.
"We want to avoid people becoming institutionalised and to encourage people into independent living.
"Our aim is that people would stay in these facilities for a month of so.
"It's not an open-ended substitution of one State facility for another. That is to be avoided."
An evaluation of the three centres will be carried out this year. Mr Waters said that subject to this study, the agency aims to have a step-down facility adjacent to all major direct provision centres.