A mother in Knockalisheen Accommodation Centre was refused a slice of bread for her sick child. The child had been recovering and at 1AM, he wanted something to eat. The mother called a friend to walk her to the reception area to ask for a slice of bread. Aramark staff told her that they received instructions from management not to give residents anything outside meal times. A few hours before the mother went through this, an adult male resident was refused milk and coffee by the same Aramark staff. The Direct Provision centre, like all others without self-catering facilities, has meal times displayed on the notice boards.
When reporters contacted the Reception and Integration (Incarceration) Agency (RIA) which oversees the system of Direct Provision, RIA said that they will investigate and get a full report on the incident. It is unclear what it is that they are investigating because the staff were doing something that happens in most of the Direct Provision centres. Everyone who has ever stayed in the Balseskin Reception Centre knows meal times and that you can’t access the canteen outside meal times.
The last report published on RIA’s website after an inspection of Knockalisheen Accommodation Centre suggests that meals are provided for residents who arrive late. Every resident in the centre will tell you that is a lie. If you miss breakfast, you’ll starve until the next meal. Bread politics are not new in Knockalisheen though. A while back I asked a member of staff for 4 slices of bread. She took them out of the plastic and gave them to me. I had to ask her to put them on a plate.
But this is not even about bread. The crux of the matter is institutionalisation that infantilises adults. A grown up must go to a contractor (Aramark) appointed by the government and ask them for a cup of coffee, a slice of bread, milk, and say thank you as a child would to a parent. RIA is reportedly investigating the refusal to give a mother a simple slice of bread as if that refusal is out of the ordinary. Yet one of the first things a person is told when moving into a Direct Provision centre is information about the canteen which includes location, meal times and rules such as “you can’t take cutlery out of the canteen.” Which means you will eat whatever they serve, when they serve it and where it is served unless you use your €21.60 weekly allowance to buy cutlery.
There are some 1500+ children living in state sanctioned poverty in Direct Provision centres across the country. Their parents are deliberately placed in positions where they can’t provide a simple slice of bread. The State would tell you that they provide for the children’s needs. A child needs a family home and being warehoused in the ghetto that is Direct Provision is far from it. Children in Knockalisheen and other Direct Provision centres must queue with adults for food.
They fetch school lunch in the canteen before getting on the bus to school in the morning. They know what time breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served. They know that they are treated differently in Irish society because they are children of “asylum seekers” who live on handouts or charity if you like. Etched in their memory will be the time spent in Direct Provision when they couldn’t ask their parent/s for something because €21.60 per week wouldn’t go far enough to pay for movie ticket and transport to hang out with friends from school Their childhood memories will be characterised by the poverty they grew up in. The child will remember the time he couldn’t get a simple slice of bread because management had told staff not to give residents anything outside meal times.
A mother living in Direct Provision centre in Dublin once shared that her daughter and other children in the centre often mimic the way management treats people in the centre. RIA’s rules say, “you must do what the centre manager says.” Children know that they cannot take a plate of food from the canteen to their rooms. They dine with strangers from different parts of the world every day. In Balseskin, a mother had to stand at the door whenever her son was using the bathroom. He was scared and many other children have shared that they feel unsafe when men look at them creepy. The family had to share the bathroom with the strangers living in the room next door.
In response to the Knockalisheen incident, the Irish government has suggested that residents should report issues to RIA, Ombudsman or the Ombudsman for Children. But the Ombudsman for Children has already said that no child should grow up in Direct Provision as the system is wholly unsuitable to accommodate children. And the Ombudsman has also said that Direct Provision is not suitable for long-term stays. The government has not removed the 1500+ children growing up in Direct Provision nor have they addressed the issue of people staying in the system longer than the 6 months it was initially established for. Yet they want people to report rights violations to the very institutions they have ignored in the past.
It is very cruel of the Irish government to deliberately place a mother in a position where she cannot provide a simple slice of bread for her child. She must go to a contractor appointed by the State to get a slice of bread. Just like every person in Knockalisheen must ask Aramark, a contractor appointed by the government, for a slice of bread, cup of coffee and a bowl of porridge. The Irish State does not seem to understand the humiliation I and many other residents experience every time we’re treated like children as we say “please” and “thank you” to Aramark staff for bread as if we’re children getting it from parents. Direct Provision turns adults into children. The Ombudsman has rightly said that people should be given work rights so that they can work and live in proper homes not State sponsored poverty.
And the Supreme Court has said that International Protection applicants can invoke constitutional rights that affect them as human beings. When the mother was refused a slice of bread for her sick child, her constitutional right to private family life was violated as she felt frustrated and asked, “what does a mother do in this situation?” A slice of bread. The right to dignity is undermined every time a person feels worthless in Direct Provision. You’d think the court submission by the Burmese man who challenged the government’s refusal to allow him to work would have helped the government understand the way Direct Provision undermines the right to dignity for every adult person who is not allowed to work. Residents are also stripped of the right to privacy every time they must change in front of the stranger they are forced to share a bedroom with.
The slice of bread is not the problem. The problem is the violation of fundamental human rights through the system of Direct Provision. Defending the system is cruel if is designed to strip human beings of their fundamental human rights to privacy, dignity, work, and the right to private family life. The State can issue a million press statements to spin this. They cannot take away the daily cruelty and humiliation that residents of Direct Provision centres across Ireland are subjected to. Charities will continue asking people for donations for people in Direct Provision because Ireland has a government that refuses to let people live a life with the dignity that comes with being able to shape major aspects of one’s life. Children in Direct Provision know that their lives are different form the lives of their mates in school because they are children of “migrants.” And Aramark will keep receiving €4200.00 per month for the mother who was refused a simple slice of bread and her family. The Taoiseach will keep presiding over a government that is cruel to anyone who seeks protection from war, violence or persecution.