‘It’d be nice to be able to live like the other kids’

Dieudonne, 11, is one of 1,600 children growing up in the direct provision system for asylum seekers

 Dieudonne: “We don’t have any transport after school, so I just head home. It’s hard. I’d like to be able to play more sport or to go to my friends’ house and play . . .” Photograph: Alan Betson

Dieudonne: “We don’t have any transport after school, so I just head home. It’s hard. I’d like to be able to play more sport or to go to my friends’ house and play . . .” Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Dieudonne (11) spends most afternoons riding his bike around the car park of the old hotel.

He would like to be out with his friends at school playing for the local GAA or soccer team. But his mother tells him it’s not possible.

“We don’t have any transport after school, so I just head home. It’s hard. I’d like to be able to play more sport or to go to my friends’ house and play . . .

“It’d be nice to be able to live like the other kids. It’s boring here. It’s too dangerous to go out on the road and a lot of the time we’re asked not to ride our bikes in the car park by the staff.”

His home for the past eight years is a room at the old Montague Hotel which he shares with his mother. It’s an isolated setting, about 16km outside Portlaoise.

Dieudonne is among the 1,600 or more children growing up in a direct provision system for asylum seekers, a form of communal accommodation that has been repeatedly criticised for its duration, overcrowding and inappropriate environment.

Hundreds of children have spent their childhoods growing up in rooms they often share with their entire family. Play areas are scarce, so shared hotel rooms often become recreation spaces.

Campaigners have painted a troubling picture of the damage done to children by years of living in institutional accommodation, far removed from the atmosphere of a family home.

Income poverty experienced by families only adds to children’s exclusion from society.

Asylum-seeking children do not receive child benefit on the basis that they are not “habitually resident” in Ireland. Instead, their parents receive €9.60 per week per child – a sum which has not been increased for 14 years.

Children are, at least, able to attend primary and secondary school. But integrating into the community is made more difficult when there isn’t money for school trips, sports, birthday presents and other day-to-day expenses.

Dieudonne says he has made good friends, but sometimes feels apart. “We don’t invite people back to the hotel. It would be nice to have a proper birthday one day.

“When I’m older, I’d like to have a job, get married and live in a house. That would be nice. I just don’t want to be here.

“I’d really like some personal space. It’s hard. You see other people get your papers and you feel sad. You want to live in the outside world, in a house. But we’re stuck.”