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The Problems Faced By Women Asylum Seekers Social Work Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 3035 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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An asylum seeker is an individual who arrives at the country’s port of entry with or without a valid visa and wishes to be recognised as a refugee by the State (Luibheid 2004, p.336).

In Ireland the aspect of the law that defines refugee can be found in Refugee Act (1996). This Act also reflects Article 1 of the 1951 Geneva Convention. A refugee in Irish law is an individual who is, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted on grounds of race, nationality, religion or membership of a particular social or political group in her home country and is unable or owing, to such fear, has prevented herself from the protection of her home country (irishstatutebook.ie).

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Kanics (2007) stated that the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland fluctuates. The highest number of applications (11,632) were received in 2002 (Larlor and Share 2009, p.420). However, Ireland is not alone in experiencing increases in the number of people seeking asylum. It also applied to other European countries like Germany, France and The Netherlands (Clement 2001, p.174). In 2010 the total number of people that seek asylum was 1,660 in which 15 percent were under direct provision in Limerick (unchr.org; cso.ie; ria.gov.ie)

3.3 Gender Issues and the Asylum Process

Wright (1995) and Kay (1989) researched women asylum seekers and proclaimed that there had been a bias towards male asylum seekers. ‘Gender neutrality’ can hinder the resources of women asylum seekers (Hunt 2008, p.282).

The gendered roles and division of labour accepted within most societies means that women’s roles will often be different from those of men. In many cases, women’s activities are not accepted as political activities by the authorities deciding on asylum (Freedman 2009, p.177).

Baines (2004) argues that feminists and academics are critical about the unsatisfactory handling of gender in relation to asylum seekers in international conventions and treaties. Crawley and Lester (2004) suggest that less women than men claimed asylum in Europe. Women who experienced persecution may also find it difficult to leave because of their children and financial problems. Spijkerboer (2000) argues that women only leave their families and country when they can no longer cope (Freedman, 2009: 176).

According to Bunch (1995 p.13), the failure of the High Commissioner to envisage persecution on grounds of sex, makes women feel left out of the range of those that can be granted refugee status. A gender guideline for processing women asylum seekers’ applications was launched by the Human Rights Barrister Kennedy in the United Kingdom. The new guidelines aim to prioritise the experiences of women asylum seekers in the process of asylum (Verkaik, 2000).

Most research conducted on asylum seekers in Ireland focuses on the problems faced, based on their experiences in their home countries. Few of the researchers focus on the coping strategies in the new environment asylum seekers find themselves (Hunt 2008, p.32).

Studies have shown the importance of the strategies and actions of the women during the asylum process. Berghahn (1995) conducted a study on Jewish women fleeing Nazi Germany. Despite the fact that these women were from middle-class backgrounds, they engaged in unpaid domestic roles to support their families. Berghahn explained further that women are more able to adjust to a different status than men (Hunt 2008, p.75). McDonnell (2009) conducted a qualitative study on women asylum seekers in Limerick and she stated that most of them developed strategies to cope with the situation while the process of asylum reinforced the feeling of isolation and exclusion for some of the women (McDonnell 2009, p.101).


The process of asylum differs from country to country. In the UK, asylum seekers refer to those that do not have a recognised residence status but instead have temporary residence till the end of their asylum application process (Clement 2001, p.177). In Ireland, refugee applications are dealt with on the criteria stated in the Refugee Act 1996 as amended by Section 11 (1) of the Immigration Act (1999), and by Section 9 of the Illegal Immigration (Trafficking) Act 2000, and by Section 7 of the Immigration Act 2003 (oireachtas.ie).

Refugee Application Commissioner (ORAC) deals with asylum applications decision in the Irish asylum system. This office was established in 1996 under the Refugee Act 1996. The (ORAC) makes a recommendation based on the individual application. This may take up to six months or longer before the applicant gets a decision on her application. In a situation where the recommendation is negative, the applicant can appeal; such an appeal will be forwarded to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. Based on the recommendation of the tribunal, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform will make a decision. In some cases the applicant may get the decision within a year (citizeninformation.ie). However, in most cases, it will take longer than that.

In a situation where the applicant is refused on appeal, she can apply for humanitarian residency and this decision can take a year or more. Refugee status will be granted if the applicant meets the criteria in the definition of refugee as stated in the Refugee Act 1996. Refugee status will allow the holder family reunification, entitlement to work, right to own a business, full social welfare services and payment and educational services. They can also apply for a travelling document under the 1951 Convention (oireachtas.ie).


Forbes-Martin (2004) pointed out that most countries do not have policies and legislation in relation to asylum seekers and in some countries the policies in place are not implemented. That is, persecution claims by women asylum seekers are not accepted even though it has been a universal debate (Freedman 2009, p.175).

In April 2000 there emerged another policy in relation to the process of accommodating asylum seekers in Ireland. Asylum seekers that arrived in the country after this date are not entitled to full welfare allowances but placed in an accommodation centre. Three meals are provided daily, a bed, and free medical services. In addition, adults are paid 19.10 Euro and each child receives 9.60 Euro every week as allowance (Luibheid 2004, p.337). However, studies have shown that asylum seekers in direct provision experience food poverty which leads to unintended weight increase; it takes away their control over food choices, and results in a limited social network that causes isolation and loneliness. This system deprives them of social interaction opportunities leading to a lack of integration (Manandhar, 2006). Prior to 26th July, 1999 asylum seekers had access to education and training and post-Leaving Certificate courses. Asylum seekers that came after July 1999 are not allowed full-time education or training but their children under eighteen are allowed primary and secondary education (Irish Refugee Council 2001).

In Limerick, there are three asylum seekers’ accommodation centres. One of these is for single people and the remaining two are for families (ria.gov.ie).

The 1956 Citizenship Act was amended in the 2004 referendum which withdrew the right of the parents of Irish-born children to apply for residency in Ireland. The argument of the State was based on the assumption that migrant women were coming to Ireland to give birth to Irish Citizens (Coulter, 2004).

Hence, most women asylum seekers struggle to cope with their new environment and there is no specific duration for the process of asylum application in Ireland which means applicants could stay longer than expected during this process. This review will now look at the needs of women asylum seekers.


Hewitt (2000) stated that ‘human needs represent a standard of fulfillment different from basic needs and important basic human needs’ (Hewitt 2000, p.126).

Studies conducted on asylum seekers have shown that their needs are complex. Some of these need include good housing provision, adequate health facilities, access to education, employment opportunities and access to adequate information. Other problems identified include poor language skills, lack of social network support, little or no understanding of the norms of Irish society, psychological problems due to the process of asylum and lack of self-confidence due to racism experiences (Kennan, and MacNeela, 2004; Hollander 2006; Lamba 2003; and Riemann 2003)

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Kennan and MacNeela (2004) conducted a qualitative study on asylum seekers and concluded that direct provision system is like a strategic plan to put an end to the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers in Ireland. Their study also suggested that asylum seekers that fled persecution from her home country had to begin a new life in the country where she sought refuge (Kennan and MacNeela 2004, p.10).

In Ireland, prior to April 2000, asylum seekers were accommodated in private rented accommodation and they were given welfare allowances as Irish citizens. This system was changed to a ‘Direct Provision System’ in April, 2000, when rental accommodation was replaced by asylum accommodation centres (Luibheid 2004, p.338). Furthermore, a qualitative research conducted by Veale and Fanning (2001) pointed out that ‘the method of providing food for asylum seekers in the direct provision is not suitable for women asylum seekers and their children (Veale and Fanning p.5). Former Minister of State Donnell stated that ‘housing and accommodation is perhaps one of the most important things to get, as we work towards integrating asylum seekers,’ (Kennan and MacNeela 2004, p.14).

Women asylum seekers and their adult children could not attend full-time education or training, although some agencies like FAS and VECs are working towards meeting these needs in relation to education. These agencies however, only focused on English language classes and skill training (Stewart, 2006). Asylum seekers’ children between age 5 and 16 years in the United Kingdom have the same educational right as other children (Reakes, 2007). Asylum seekers’ children that are minor can acquire both primary and secondary education like other children in Irish society. These children can only access education for the period of their parent’s asylum process and continuation of their education depends on their parent’s asylum application decision (Irish Refugee Council 2001).

Asylum seekers are among the ethnic minorities that their health needs special attention. Nolan et al. (2002), Cave et al. (2003), Collins (2002), and Galvin (2004) suggest that the process of asylum, availability and accessibility of health service contributes to the health needs of asylum seekers (Stewart, 2006, p.55 ). In other words, cultural variations can hinder the progress of meeting the health needs of women asylum seekers, as the support workers might not understand their cultural beliefs. This can reduce women asylum seekers care provision. (Powell et al. 2004).

Physical and psychological needs of women asylum seekers arise from their experiences from the country they fled from. Such experiences include war, political persecution, torture, discrimination, financial hardship and abuse. (Powell et al.2004). The Department of Health (2004) stated that feelings of isolation and insecurity experienced by asylum seekers based on lack of privacy can lead to social withdrawal, aggression, and depression (Stewart 2006, P.54).


Pringle (2006) outlines the needs of children to include: love, security, praise, recognition, responsibility and new experiences. These needs have to be met from childhood and through adulthood (Pringle, 2006).

Veale and Fanning (2001) pointed out that asylum seeker’s children that are placed in direct provision ‘foster extreme child poverty and social exclusion within Irish communities.’ The centres are not conducive for pregnant women and their children (p.14). On the other hand, Manandher et al. (2004) conducted a qualitative study on food provision of asylum seekers in direct provision. They suggested that the lack of privacy in asylum centres prevents the women from breastfeeding their babies comfortably (p.45).

The Irish Refugee Council (IRC) stated in their policy on the regional reception of asylum seekers in Ireland that asylum seekers’ children experience the same difficulties as their parents. Their needs are similar to their parents in terms of health, housing and psychological needs. Asylum seekers’ children depend on their parents for developmental needs and this makes them more vulnerable (Irish Refugee Council 2001). This principle is underpinned in Children First (1999), the National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children. It states that parents have the primary duty for the care and protection of their children (Children First 1999). Asylum seekers’ children’s experiences in accommodation centres are contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1989). It also opposes different existing laws in Ireland such as the National Children’s strategy, the Program for Prosperity and Fairness (2000) and the National Anti-poverty Strategy (Veale and Fanning 2001, p.5).

Hence, women asylum seekers needs are complex but their basic needs are met but base on different persecution they have experience there is need to tackle their psychological problems. Also, asylum seekers children in direct provision experience are contrary to existing laws in Ireland.


The study conducted by the European Agency for Fundamental Right (EFR) on asylum seekers in Europe has shown that asylum seekers in Ireland have mixed experiences. Ireland is one of the countries that have the asylum procedure on the website which is self-explanatory and leaflets are available where they can get access to free legal aid. Also, the leaflet is translated into about twenty languages compared to France where the leaflet is translated into five languages (Kjacrum, 2010). The questionnaire for asylum application in Ireland is difficult to complete because most of the asylum seekers do not have knowledge of the rules and regulations. Asylum seekers in Ireland also complain of the language barrier when talking to solicitors (Kjacrum, 2010).

In addition, some of the applicants complain that they are not aware that they can have a ‘gender specific interview. Some of the asylum seekers complaint about delays in the asylum process which can cause mental stress (Kjacrum and Frewen 2010). According to Rowley, the concern is that some of the women who have been in the system for two years, still battle with the dilemma of being deported. Hence, despite their experience of trauma, they are left in such an insecure state (Macormaic, 2008).

3.7 The Role of Support Workers and the Challenges they Faced

A support worker is an individual trained in motivational interviewing process techniques to be able to participate in the decision-making of issues that concern their client’s life (Territo and Kirkham 2010, p.189). Hennesy (2002) states three principles that govern the services provided by support workers as: ‘self-determination, participation and empowerment.’ An examination of these principles in relation to working with women asylum seekers entails service users being involved actively in the activities that influence decision-making on services provided for them (Lalor, and Share 2009, p.343). (See appendix 1 for the role of support workers).

Looking into support workers challenges, Pedersen (2000) refers to culture as the values, beliefs and behaviour shared by certain groups of people in society and multiculturalism as the ‘fourth force’ in the process of supporting the clients (Corey and Corey 2006, p.16). Most of the women asylum seekers are from different background, culture and religion belief, support workers needs to embrace multiculturalism in order to meet their needs. Pederson (2000) pointed out that not all African or all American have the same culture despite the fact that they are from the same continent. Also, those that have the same culture, have different experiences (Corey and Corey, 2007 p.186). Lee and Ramsay (2006) argue that changes in the demographics in society brought about new patterns for the helping professions therefore, it is important for support workers to embrace a broad multiculturalism approach in order to understand diverse clients (Corey and Corey, 2007 p.189). However, the differences in beliefs, values and cultural backgrounds can prevent support workers from providing sufficient and proper care required from them (Lalor and Share 2009, p424). From the literature presented above, one can see that there are many issues affecting women asylum seekers. Therefore, there is a need for support workers who understand the complexity and diversity that asylum seekers present with.

In conclusion, this literature review has shown the needs of women asylum seekers, the process of asylum application and the view of the asylum seekers of the process. It has also explored asylum policies, the experience of asylum seekers’ children in direction provision, and the challenges faced by the support workers. Finally, it explains the roles of asylum seekers’ support workers.

Based on the above literatures review, the researcher’s view that the needs of women asylum seekers depends on the experiences from the country they fled from, as well as the process and duration of asylum and the asylum policies in place in the host country.


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