Students told of direct provision horrors

Staff target asylum seekers in direct provision centres, Irish Refugee Council CEO says.

newsAn asylum seeker who enquired about his transfer from an initial direct provision centre in Dublin to another centre in Sligo was jeered by a Department of Justice official who called out “Sligo, Sligo, Sligo,” Sue Conlan, the CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, told students last week.  Conlan was speaking at “Direct Provision in Ireland: New Directions and Ways Forward,” a panel discussion about the system of accommodating asylum seekers while their applications are reviewed, hosted by Trinity Free Legal Advice Centre, DU Amnesty and the Society for International Affairs, at Trinity Global Room last Wednesday.

Conlan said that the Gardaí were subsequently called when the man expressed annoyance in response to the taunt. She said that the Garda was the “most humane” official involved and described the asylum seeker as “the most traumatised young men” she had ever met. She also revealed that before being transferred, residents of direct provision are sent letters asking them to bring their “dirty sheets” to reception. In the letter, they are told that if they refuse to accept the transfer they will not be offered alternative accommodation. Conlan succeeded in getting the young man transferred to another centre in Dublin.

The incident “is indicative of the dismissive way in which people new to the country can be treated both by management at the initial reception centre and also by Department of Justice officials themselves,” Conlan told Trinity News. “The inappropriate use of the Gardaí by management of DP (direct provision) centres is not unusual,” she said. “They are used as a form of control and intimidation even when there is no suggestion that a criminal offence has been committed.”

Conlan went on to speak about an interview she gave on 9th October on WLR FM, a local radio station in Waterford, during which she claimed the presenter made “inappropriate and stereotypical comments about ‘sub-Saharan Africans’.” She said that the producer did not respond to her requests for a podcast and that a local resident who had enquired told her that the programme had been taken down while an internal investigation took place. Trinity News contacted WLR FM looking for a podcast, but the station has yet to provide one, despite being contacted by Trinity News by both phone and email. At the time of writing the podcast of the show was still missing from the station’s website.

On October 24th, The Sunday World reported claims by staff at the Lissywollen Athlone Direct Provision Centre that they had been threatened by residents of the centre. The previous month 200 residents refused food in a dispute over how the centre is operated. Conlan gave her own account of the dispute to Trinity News: “Tensions at the site have been building up for a long time.  Residents are of the view that core staff show a lack of respect for them and when they have attempted to address their concerns, it ‘ups the ante’.”

She continued: “In that context, staff have been trying to ‘build a case’ against the residents and the decision to walk out was taken collectively if there was another ‘incident’, which turned out to be a complaint from a mum that Coco Pops were not available one breakfast time for her child.  Core staff ‘downed tools’ and walked off site, remaining off site for about two weeks.” She claimed that staff target those residents who are key to protests and make these residents’ lives harder.

Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin, Labour TD and minister of state for new communities, culture and equality, also spoke at the event, although he left early to launch the 1916 commemorations at the GPO. He described direct provision as “a serious issue for those with a social justice mind set”.  He said that Ireland is “coming through a period of reflection” about the “type of country we want to be one hundred years after the proclamation”. He also labelled as “vacuous” Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s slogan about Ireland being the “best little country in the world in which to do business.”

Ó Ríordáin described meeting a man from Afghanistan who he said was “completely and utterly broken”. He said that direct provision compounds this “as a deliberate act of public policy”. Direct provision centres are run by people who “effectively run catering companies”, he claimed. He said that he would be happy to stand over a “humane” system of direct provision lasting no longer than six months and that he is determined to keep the right to work “on the table”. “We have had a love affair in Ireland with institutionalisation…with locking people up,” he said. With only 18 months “or less” left in power, the coalition must “seize the opportunity” to reform the system. However, he conceded that a working group report about asylum seekers within the system wouldn’t be ready by Christmas.

Patricia Brazil, Trinity’s Averil Deverell Lecturer in Law, said that the policy of “dispersal” that sees immigrants sent to often isolated direct provision centres around the country after their arrival causes mental health difficulties. She told students about LGBT refugees who had been transferred to Cavan and Monaghan where there are no support services for LGBT people.

Patricia Brazil said that the direct provision system has “always played catch-up” since its introduction. She said the system is “all over the place” with no single procedure to handle applications for different forms of asylum. She outlined how the system has no statutory basis, originating in an administrative circular in the civil service. She called direct provision a “punitive measure” and noted that the direct provision allowance of €19.10 has never been increased in line with inflation since its introduction in 1999, while extra entitlements depend on the decision of the local community welfare officer.

At the latest count she said that 4,494 people are housed in direct provision centres, with more than half staying in the system for more than four years.

In a ruling on Friday, the High Court declared that direct provision did not breach the human rights of the mother and son who took the case against the Department of Justice. However, the court ruled that some of the house rules such as daily signing on, unannounced inspections and the ban on having guests is unlawful. The judge said that the ruling was “doomed” because the mother and son had failed to present oral evidence to the court. In anticipation of the ruling at the discussion last Wednesday, Patricia Brazil said that this challenge is likely to be taken to the Supreme Court. A protest has been scheduled to take place outside the Dáil, this Thursday, at 10am.