Ireland’s indirect prison system explained

Students are fighting against Direct Provision in Trinity

In the last few years the terms “refugee”, “asylum seekers”, and “immigrants” have been widely used in mass media to refer to people who don’t belong to their country of residence. However, there are crucial differences in these labels that need to be highlighted. There is discourse that mixes up these terms and creates a perception and sense of nationalism that is inherently harmful to the future of a country.

According to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, a United Nations Multilateral Treaty, relating to the status of refugees, “a refugee is anyone who leaves their country because they fear that they are in danger of persecution for one of the following reasons – race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social groups, or political opinion.” There are several reasons why a person may have to flee their country as a refugee, war being only one of them. Asylum seekers, on the other hand, “are people seeking to be recognised as refugees…People in this process are legally entitled to stay in the state until their application for protection is decided.”

“Students in Trinity are fighting to end this system from within.”

Under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” States are required to uphold this by providing basic rights to those seeking asylum.

In Ireland, people seeing asylum are accommodated by the government’s Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) in Direct Provision centers. These were initially meant to be “interim” systems to provide accommodation for six months while people waited for the outcome of their applications, but now the average length of stay is around 23 months, with around 400 residents stuck in the system for five years or more.

This system has been criticised for its prison-like rules that restrict the freedom of refugees and asylum seekers. Moreover, it is posing a very high cost to the State.

Students in Trinity are fighting to end this system from within. Campaigns include Aramark Off Our Campus, VDP’s Social Justice Club, and students and academics trying to make Trinity a University of Sanctuary.

Jessie Dolliver cofounded Aramark Off Our Campus, a campaign that calls for a boycott of the Aramark-run Westland Eats in the Hamilton Building, and for Aramark to end their contract with Trinity. Regarding the impact of the campaign, Dolliver explains: “Fighting Aramark on our campus isn’t likely to financially challenge Aramark as a company, nor is it sufficient to end the system of Direct Provision in Ireland. The effect of the campaign is to make a statement to Trinity and to the government that students will not be complicit in the marginalisation and incarceration of asylum seekers in Ireland. More than a show of solidarity, the Aramark Off Our Campus campaign is a means of communicating to students that racist national policies exist and that the lives we lead, the choices we make, support these policies. This is done without our consent. The students of Trinity were not asked if we would like a company such as Aramark to be on our campus, nor were we consulted on having the Hamilton restaurant replaced with a Bank of Ireland, nor were we consulted on having a section of the Berkeley library given up to the company Blackstone. Trinity’s Commercial Revenue Unit clearly has no ethical procurement policy, or an utterly impotent one.”

“In order to bring about change, we need more Irish people to be aware of the problem.”

“Students are affected because they have been made unwitting accomplices in the system of Direct Provision. They have been denied a choice. At a larger scale, they have been denied the opportunity to learn with people from all over the world who have come to Ireland looking for a better live and the chance to learn.” This year Aramark Off Our Campus plans to continue to boycott of Aramark, and to raise awareness about Direct Provision.

VDP’s Social Justice Club has taken up campaigning against Direct Provision this year. “Social Justice Club aims to educate students for activism, as breaking into the existing activist circles as a ‘newbie’ without much knowledge can be daunting. The more we talk to our peers about Direct Provision, the more we realise that most people don’t know it exists, let alone how bad it is. That’s why one of our main aims this year is purely educating students on the Direct Provision system so they can be aware that this is going on.”

A statement from VDP read: “Most Irish students aren’t directly affected, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care. It’s our duty as students and young people of Ireland to stand up to systemic injustices, as we have with marriage equality and the Repeal movement, in order to build a more inclusive Ireland for generations to come.” On why it affects students, they explained: “The Direct Provision system makes it illegal for asylum seekers to pursue third level education past FETAC Level 5. Students who are asylum seekers aren’t penalised for going to college but it is made almost impossible through the lack of sanctuary schools, the rural and isolated location of direct provision centres, and the barriers to accessing a driving licence. This wouldn’t have been a primary reason to take up fighting Direct Provision, but as students we do feel very strongly about the lack of access to third level education for asylum seekers. Discussing ways we could take action to demand more access to third level education for asylum seekers has been a powerful way to inspire other students to get involved with the fight against Direct Provision.”

VDP outlined their plans for this year: “One of the most important first steps in combating Direct Provision is raising awareness of the issue. In order to bring about change, we need more Irish people to be aware of the problem. Until enough Irish citizens challenge DP, it will not be a priority of the Irish government to improve the situation, in recent weeks we have seen the power of the Irish people in blocking deportations. Some of our plans for awareness-raising include hosting guest speakers, launching campaigns, and organising panel discussions. We plan to host more collaborative events with people living in Direct Provision and Trinity students, as well as volunteering with national organisations to support and contribute to their events and preexisting movements.”

“Direct Provision was originally set up as a temporary system to accommodate asylum seekers. Nonetheless, eighteen years have passed since its introduction. How much longer are we willing to put up with this blatant denial of basic human rights? It’s up to us: people with a vote, people who can influence how the Irish government runs this country, to give a voice and a platform to asylum seekers. It’s up to us to stand in solidarity with asylum seekers to demand a fair, supportive, and inclusive reception system in our country.”

Navika Mehta

Navika Mehta is a former Features Editor of Trinity News. She is a PPES graduate.