Among communities experiencing social exclusion and marginalization in contemporary Irish society, are those living in the system known as Direct Provision (DP) who are among the most marginalized and excluded individuals. Those living in DP are primarily asylum seekers, but they also include people who have (either convention or program) refugee status, subsidiary protection, or leave to remain, or the families of those with these statuses, who have not been able to find alternative accommodation in the Irish housing market.
Conditions in DP, and their effects on those who are forced to live in it, have been documented and criticized regularly over the twenty years of its operation, both by media and civil society institutions in broader society, as well as by asylum seekers who have themselves experienced the system from within. Research by the Irish Times, published under the title ‘Lives in Limbo’ in 2014, pointed to deprivation and social exclusion experienced by those living in Direct Provision in a range of areas. Steven Loyal has argued that asylum-seekers living in DP “have the least access and entitlements to social and material resources of all individuals living in Ireland.”
DP, as a system, arose out of a decision by the Irish government in April 2000, in the context of increasing numbers of people seeking asylum, to provide directly for the needs of asylum seekers through full board and lodging, accompanied by a small personal income and accommodation in centres around the country allocated without any choice on the part of the individuals to be accommodated, while waiting for their applications for asylum in Ireland to be processed. Though originally envisaged as a temporary measure that would last only six months, the system of DP is now in its twentieth year of operation.
A specific aspect of social exclusion experienced by those living in DP is the low income they receive while awaiting the results of their applications. In real terms, the Daily Expense Allowance received by adults in DP amounts to approximately 3% of the average industrial wage in Ireland, and up until recently they were not allowed to participate in the workforce, hence they are completely dependent on their meagre allowance.
Barriers to accessing education
In terms of education, an area of key relevance to this research, although asylum seeker can attend primary and secondary school, they are effectively barred from third-level education as they cannot access free fees. As a result many asylum seekers take courses that are well below their levels of qualifications. The opportunities provided by this project to extend access to education to people with limited access to it, is therefore of great relevance to Direct Provision.
The current context
Taken as a whole, there is a large body of research to hold up the claim that Direct Provision as a system is socially marginalizing and excluding, and that it has contributed to a range of negative mental, physical, social and economic impacts on those who have been forced to live in it. In this context, the definition of DP as a site of social exclusion within Irish society would seem to be justified, both by academic research, and by the testimonies of asylum seekers themselves.
Accordingly, On July 1st in 2018 the Irish government decreed that people living in Direct Provision who have been in the State for nine months or more and who have not yet had a first decision on their refugee status would be allowed to seek work outside of their centres. It is estimated some 3,000 of the more than 5,300 people in the system will benefit.
As a result of this ruling and given that people with disabilities in English, Ireland’s first language, the Irish research team propose to offer the VLE to groups of asylum seekers who are currently living in DP and who hope to eventually obtain refuges status in Ireland become autonomous citizens in this regard. The research team are also building on previous findings in the Irish context which concluded that the transition for DP into the community can be challenging and fraught with anxiety, particularly where a high level of English fluency is required to navigate the welfare system.
Accordingly, the aim of the EN ABILITIES project in the Irish context is twofold:
- To enable people living in direct provision to improve their English language skills to help them gain employment, increase their income and build on their social capital within the Irish context.
- To build on their current knowledge of the English language to help them navigate the transition from direct provision to community living including sourcing supports for themselves and their families via a complicated welfare system.