When Ruth Odion’s kids break out of their room, they run the hallways, and laugh and play.
Adults usually complain, says Odion. But the kids have no other space to play inside the Red Cow Moran Hotel in Clondalkin.
“They need a place to play. They deserve better than what they’re being given,” said Odion on Friday night, sitting on a tall stool outside the Boar Head’s pub on Capel Street.
“Frank was trying to give them a place to play,” said Odion, pointing at Frank Modibedi, another parent at the hotel, who was sitting at a barrel table across from her smoking a cigarette.
Modibedi has campaigned to turn a couple of idle spaces or conference rooms at the hotel into playrooms for asylum-seeking children.
“Just a small step, but I’m not making any traction,” said Modibedi, who has a six-year-old daughter.
The Red Cow Moran Hotel is one of 11 temporary accommodation centres in County Dublin, show government figures.
The county has the highest number of these centres, which have fewer facilities – as the lack of play space in the Red Cow illustrates – than the permanent direct provision centres, even though people can end up in them for months.
Temporary centres are of two types: pre-reception centres like the Red Cow Moran Hotel, of which there are six in the city; and emergency centres for those further along in the asylum process, of which there are five.
Pre-reception centres are for people who have come to Ireland seeking asylum but have not yet been sent to the national reception centre in Baleskin and on to a more permanent place.
Emergency centres are used to help provide more rooms for people who have already been through the reception process when the more permanent ones are full.
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality said that it has been working to cut dependency on emergency centres by opening more permanent ones. But the number of pre-reception centres has climbed.
They didn’t yet say whether it has plans at the Red Cow Moran Hotel to set up rooms for kids to play and study. (The team are busy working to assist humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, they said, and would get back to queries later in the week.)
Odion says her kids tell her all the time how much they want to leave the Red Cow Moran Hotel. “They’re not psychologically happy. I just want my kids to get some enjoyment, it breaks my heart.”
A Place to Play
More than 300 people seeking asylum live at Red Cow Moran Hotel.
As in other pre-reception centres, they are waiting to wrap up the early steps of the process of applying for asylum, and often don’t have Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSNs) and the right to work.
Modibedi and Odion have been living in the hotel for four months, they say.
They don’t know when they are going to be moved, they say, or how people are prioritised for transfer.
On 18 January, Modibedi wrote to a charity worker at DePaul Ireland to advocate for a playroom and a classroom for the kids.
The playroom for kids younger than five and the classroom for older kids who are missing out on education, he says.
DePaul Ireland has a representative at the Red Cow Moran Hotel, who passes on residents’ concerns to the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS), the Irish government agency in charge of housing asylum-seekers, which falls under the Department of Children and Equality.
Modibedi’s email says that 60 children live in Red Cow Moran Hotel. Is it possible to give them a taste of a normal childhood? he writes.
“As you well know 5-10 years are the most crucial years of Childs life, this is the learning stage,” says the email.
It says that the hotel manager has said he’s no problem turning two or more conference rooms into playrooms and classrooms for kids if it’s allowed.
Modibedi writes in the email that his six-year-old daughter can’t read yet because she doesn’t have access to education.
The charity worker wrote back. DePaul Ireland is contracted to help out with the asylum process but children’s education is “something I am very conscious of”, they said.
“Last week I advocated to my superiors regarding just this matter,” the email says.
“The feedback I received is that IPAS are aware of the situation and hoping to put something in place,” it says.
That is the last Modibedi heard, he says.
Says Odion, the single mum at the centre: “No playground, no schooling, nothing, they’ve just been there.”
Asylum seekers at pre-reception centres lack essential documents and the right to work so they can’t afford to enrol their kids at school, Odion says, the main issue being the cost of transport.
One parent at the centre has their child enrolled in a school, Modibedi says, but the child’s father was already settled in Ireland and working before the child arrived.
It’s hard to watch the kids unhappy all the time, Odion says. Their unhappiness weighs on her.
“Where I’m from, I’ve been through a lot, and I tell myself that I’m a strong woman,” says Odion, “but I was almost going mad.”
“One time, I locked myself in the room and I cried. Because if I didn’t cry, I would have had some issues,” she says, putting her right hand on her chest as Modibedi nods.
The government had to increase the number of pre-reception centres due to a sharp uptick in new asylum seekers once travel restrictions were lifted last year, said a spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality.
“With over 3,400 new arrivals since 1 October 2021,” they said, saying it has had a “knock-on effect on the capacity levels at the National Reception Centre (NRC) in Balseskin.”
The spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality said it couldn’t reply before deadline to questions about the average length of stay in its pre-reception centres or how it prioritises people for transfer.
European bodies advise against holding asylum seekers in temporary and emergency centres for long, albeit they don’t give a clear timeframe for what is reasonable.
European law says that time spent in emergency centres, with their barer standards, should be in exceptional circumstances, according to a report on housing refugees in Europe by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a network of 105 non-profits across the European Union.
Those circumstances may include when “housing capacities normally available are temporarily exhausted”, it says, but that must be for as short a time as possible.
The ECRE report, published in 2020, mentions Ireland’s emergency centres, and how it lost permanent centres as contracts expired and because of the ongoing housing crisis.
Direct provision reached full capacity in September 2018, the report says, with no accommodation available for new asylum seekers. And “more than 20 asylum seekers being left homeless upon arrival”.
Dublin has one of the lowest numbers of non-emergency IPAS accommodation centres of all counties, with two, compared to six in Cork and six in Kerry, show government figures.
Lack of interest from the capital’s hotel and accommodation owners could be one reason.
The Department of Children and Equality contracts accommodation centres based on responses to tenders, said a spokesperson. “If applications from Dublin are not submitted, they cannot be considered.”
While the Department of Children and Equality didn’t respond to queries as to the average length of stay in pre-application centres, it did give details for stays in emergency accommodation centres, which it stressed are used only as a temporary measure.
As of 28 February, the average stay in its emergency accommodation centres was about 22 months, they said.
The Department of Children and Equality has been working to reduce dependency on emergency centres since early 2020, said a spokesperson.
It has closed 20 of them, they said, about half of those that have been in use, leaving 24 around the country.
The department put out a tender on 18 January for extra accommodation, and encourages tenders from not-for-profits, they said.
Tendering for new places is the key way they are looking to end reliance on emergency centres, the spokesperson said.
IPAS’ current national bed capacity is 6,653, they said, counting Balseskin reception centre, the number reaches to a little over 7,100.
With some people still waiting months to access work and education in its pre-reception centres, IPAS is currently preparing for thousands more refugees from Ukraine.
IPAS will make accommodation available to them, should they require it, said the spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality.
The 2016 census shows that 3,000 Ukrainians live in Ireland, and 54 Ukrainians already live in IPAS accommodation centres, they said. “It is envisaged that many Ukrainians coming to Ireland will join family members.”
On Monday, Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman, of the Green Party, along with the Irish Red Cross, called on the public to register to offer accommodation and other services to Ukrainian refugees.
Meanwhile, in recent days, at the Red Cow Moran Hotel, two other asylum-seekers have started to try to do what they can to engage children in the centre.
They have gathered groups of children to teach them English and maths, say Modibedi and Odion.
It’s already bringing children closer to each other. “The other day, I was looking at a Somalian boy, a Georgian boy, an Indian boy,” says Modibedi, laughing.
“They couldn’t communicate with each other, but they were playing and understanding each other,” he said.
“It’s because they met in that class,” says Modibedi. “That’s why I’m trying to make things better, you understand?”
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