As the conversation around immigration continues, Roisin Guyett-Nicholson examines how those in direct provision can enter higher education in Ireland.
The controversial Direct Provision system was set up in 1999 as a supposedly temporary solution to a chronic situation. However, in 2017 the system is still in existence, with a total of 4,463 people registered as part of the system at the end of March.
Direct Provision is run by the state and looks to provide basic needs for asylum seekers. While people are only supposed to be in the system for a number of months, the reality is that many spend years in centres which only offer basic facilities. Asylum seekers are given a place to live, food, access to some medical care and children are offered free primary and secondary education. Per week, adults are given €19.10 and children are given €9.60.
However, people in this system are not allowed to work as they do not have full refugee status.
Emma Sommers, Public Engagement Project Manager at Suas and organiser of the 8×8 Festival explained: “it doesn’t provide the freedom to work. That’s a huge thing for anybody, when you consider like the average amount of time for somebody in direct provision is three years, four months, that’s a long time to not be allowed determine your own space, your own life.”
“Even if they get the points and get offered a place, which has happened with students across the country, they can’t take it up”
This is an issue that also extends to those who look to attend third-level education. As most people in Direct Provision are not from Europe, they do not receive EU status when applying to colleges. What this ultimately means is that people in the system looking to attend third-level education in Ireland must pay non-EU fees. This can be between €16,000 to over €23,000 for most universities.
However many in Direct Provision not only do not have this amount of money, but cannot work to earn it during their time waiting for refugee status.
“Let’s say they get through that, they get through the Irish education system, they do their Leaving Cert, even if they get the points and get offered a place, which has happened with students across the country, they can’t take it up because they have to pay non-EU fees,” Sommers said.
She also noted that with the low amount of financial support asylum seekers receive, they wouldn’t “be saving a huge amount of money to be able to pay €16,000 a year.”
“Children are growing up in [Direct Provision]”
This is a sentiment echoed by Charlotte Byrne, a Student Advisor with the Irish Refugee Council: “they are recognised as international students, so instead of the fees being €6,000 a year, its €15,000 a year or something like that. So that puts them out of the picture. And even if you recognise them as an EU student, in many cases they’re not entitled to the free fees that an Irish person would be entitled to… even if they were entitled to that, they still don’t have €6,000.”
The lack of EU status also puts many out of the running for SUSI grants, which requires the applicants to have refugee status. Similarly, many do not qualify for the “Free Fees” initiative.
While Sommers notes “children are growing up in [Direct Provision]” it’s clear that the children in the system are not given the same options as their classmates.
The number of children in the Direct Provision system at the end of March 2017 was 1,051. However, as Byrne points out, it is not just young people that may be looking to enter education. She highlights that a number of people will travel to Ireland with qualifications already. However she notes “they know when they get their papers and they are entitled to work, they know they have to retrain. It makes sense that they would retrain while they’re going through the process.”
“Part of the problem with being in direct provision is boredom… if you’ve just worked hard for your Leaving Certificate and then you’ve got to sit at home and you can’t study.”
There are, however, a number of initiatives that try to place asylum seekers in higher education. The Irish Refugee Council last year received a grant that allowed it to fund a number of courses. Byrne explains: “We didn’t really know what response we were going to get and we got over 100 people.”
However, she noted that the grant was limited and required a selective process. “There’s an option of whether you help lots of people do smaller courses. So you know the FETAC courses or the QII level 5, level 6, generally speaking they only cost €250 or €300. So if people choose those you can help lots of people keep busy. And part of the problem with being in direct provision is boredom. No matter what age you’re at it’s difficult but if you’ve just worked hard for your Leaving Certificate and then you’ve got to sit at home and you can’t study.”
Despite the initiative, it is clear that more must be done for those looking to access higher education. There is clearly an appetite among those within the system for greater opportunities. However they are being refused not only the possibility to access these but also the option to earn money to cover the cost.
Suas is now recruiting Festival Coordinators for the UCD 8×8 Festival 2017, which will again focus on refugee and migrant issues. If you would like to get involved, see 8x8festival.ie for more details. Deadline May 1st.