During the Covid 19 pandemic, we are repeatedly reminded to socially distance but what happens when this is not an option? For those in direct provision, they could not abide by these rules even if they wanted to. Following the Black Lives Matter protests, it became even more prevalent that direct provision can be used to enable systemic racism, allowing it to prevail in Ireland. The current institutional system creates barriers for integration and can lead to social exclusion.
What is Direct Provision?
It is Ireland’s system of accommodating those seeking international protection while in the asylum process. There are approximately 7,400 people in direct provision as of April 2020. It was initially set up as a short term to accommodate people seeking asylum while providing them with food, board and necessities for no longer than 6 months. However, the average time spent in direct provision is three years with some cases reaching to seven years. This has resulted from considerable delays in the asylum process. Those in direct provision can receive ‘Daily Expenses Allowance’ which amounts to weekly payments of €29.80 for children and €38.80 for adults. The large majority of centres are run on a for-profit basis by private contractors.
Direct Provision and Covid-19
The controversial direct provision system has become even more apparent during the pandemic, as it exacerbates the difficult day to day life of residents trying to survive. In a recent report by the Irish Refugee council, appropriately titled “Powerless” Experiences of Direct Provision during the Covid-19 pandemic, found 55% felt of respondents unsafe during the pandemic.
“No one is safe in Direct provision. We share kitchens, rooms, toilets.”
42.1% of 391 respondents shared a room with one or more non-family member. Frontline workers living in direct provision expressed concerns that fellow residents might infect them, and they will then pass it on to their patients. One resident stated “We are 4 in the room; I work in Dublin and cannot rest because my roommates always make noise. They go out all the time and do not tidy up the room. I am a healthcare worker and I am scared that if one of us gets infected, the people I look after will be exposed.”
In the direct provision centre in Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry, around 30 asylum seekers began a hunger strike in retaliation to their ‘inhumane’ living conditions. Over 100 residents were moved there on the 18th March and a Covid 19 outbreak occurred soon after. They were not allowed out for nearly two months and had nowhere to cook. One resident said “all the time we have to beg” for necessities.
Parents often worried about food for their children expressing that it is not good quality or served in sufficient quantities. They also worry about lack of provisions, one parent experiencing a ‘shortage of diapers as we are not able to go to town’.
Those in direct provision only became eligible for the pandemic unemployment payment on the 6th August, as they were originally excluded from the scheme. The initial exclusion was seen as deeply unjust as many had been working and contributing like everyone else in the country.
Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc, an Irish migrant and refugee rights organisation, stated ‘some direct provision residents simply couldn’t afford to stop working, particularly those whose families outside of Ireland were entirely reliant on their income, and felt they had to jeopardise their own health and continue to go from a high-risk workplace to a congregated accommodation setting.”
The surges in Covid-19 cases radiating from the meat plant coronavirus clusters has highlighted the need to look at the conditions for workers. Meat Industry Ireland has said that 20% of workers in meat processing plants receive sick pay which will affect all workers, not just those in direct provision. Asylum seekers living in direct provision and working in a meat factory in the east of the country, have claimed they have had their hours reduced after the news of the Covid-19 clusters in Kildare, Offaly and Laois. The National Public Health Emergency Team advised measures to be put in place to stop insecurity of employment and economic considerations preventing people living in congregated settings from getting tested.
Inspections of direct provision centres have been put on hold during the pandemic. Only 11 out of 135 have been completed so far this year. Covid-19 testing is expected to start soon at direct provision centres, and this will indicate to the Department of Justice and Equality if inspections can recommence. Nasc have urged the government to ensure these inspections take place and are carried out by an independent body.
What is next for Direct Provision?
Although there has been changes and improvements to the system, the pandemic has highlighted the problem and failure of the system to us once again. The new government comprising of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party announced that they aim to end direct provision and replace it with an alternative reception system. Bulelani Mfaco of the Movement of Asylum seekers in Ireland (MASI) argues ‘Governments in general do not tend to care about matters affecting migrants because there are no votes to be won there’. There is hope the new system will be human rights driven yet, with a range of other ongoing issues, only time will tell if these promises will come into fruition.
Modern Problem by Jane McNamara. Episode 1: The Irish Direct Provision System
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