MASI and ARN come together to strongly condemn those responsible for what appears to be a deliberate arson attack on the Shannon Key West Hotel which took place on January 10th in Rooskey, Co. Leitrim. This hotel was due to open as a Direct Provision centre having been contracted by the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department of Justice and Equality.  The intention was for it to house 80 people who are seeking asylum in Ireland.

This is the second hotel contracted to provide Direct Provision accommodation to be attacked in the last two months. In November, a similar apparent arson incident happened in Moville, Co. Donegal. In Ireland people often note with pride that the far-right has not taken hold here as it has done in other European nations, but this narrative is no longer holding true.  Earlier this year some reactions to the opening of Direct Provision Centres in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare and in Wicklow also demonstrated that Ireland is not immune to the currents of anti-migrant racism that have been spreading and gaining power across the globe. 

Shutting people away in remote accommodation centres makes it easier for racists and xenophobes to target them. In Germany, for instance, official figures indicate that in 2017 there were 313 attacks on asylum reception centres and 17 of those were arson attacks. NGOs and civil society organisations have documented far in excess of these numbers listing 1527 attacks on asylum reception centres and 25 arson attacks. Although thankfully the two apparent arson attacks here in Ireland have been on centres which were not yet housing people, many asylum seekers in Ireland greatly fear that the centres they live in with their children will be next.  There are almost 6,000 people stuck in these centres in Ireland waiting for a decision on their claim for international protection. This figure includes more than 2000 children and the average length of stay for people in these open prisons is two years and rising.

It is vital that people organise with us to resist the further spread of far-right ideology and racist hate which targets all people of ethnic minority and migrant backgrounds. In Ireland this now includes violent crimes such as arson and threats of extreme violence on-line against people seeking asylum. We have seen how effective such anti-racist and migrant justice organising is at a local level from the responses of local communities to the ugly anti-migrant racism shown by a loud minority against people seeking asylum. The ongoing support and solidarity of ordinary people in communities all over Ireland gives us hope and helps us to go on despite the despair and struggles that we are faced with every day.

The Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan is reportedly “deeply concerned” about the suspected arson attack in Rooskey. However, it is vital that people understand the strong connection between these recent attacks and the policies pursued by successive governments which make asylum seekers vulnerable in the country they travelled to for safety. The Direct Provision system itself facilitates the targeting of people seeking asylum. Since 2000, the Irish State and specifically the Department of Justice and the Reception and Integration Agency have been warehousing people seeking asylum in increasingly out of the way places, leaving them impoverished and without autonomy over their own lives.  This pattern of dispersal has become even more unmistakeable over the last year as RIA shuts down centres in Dublin and transfers us as if we are livestock to centres opening in increasingly inaccessible and completely unsuitable locations, in the process destroying the lives we have managed to build against the odds.

Before the Direct Provision system was introduced people were able to live and integrate in the community with access to housing, social welfare, and employment. The Direct Provision and Dispersal system was introduced in part as a deliberate strategy of segregation. Anyone who has had to cope with living in these places of confinement can tell you this. People are kept under conditions of detention isolated from the rest of the population and often in remote locations for years on end. There should be no shame or stigma in seeking asylum, but the racialised segregation enforced by the Direct Provision system deepens the stigma that has been created around the label of ‘asylum seeker’.

Direct Provision destroys people from the inside out. It takes away everything – dignity, autonomy, agency. It eats away at your sense of self. Now, you are just this label – an ‘asylum seeker’. The Direct Provision system causes this dehumanisation from within, but it also enables dehumanisation from outside. It is much easier to stir up racist, xenophobic hatred when the subjects of that hate are isolated, impoverished and segregated into an actual physical space, an institution, a camp, that sets them apart as less human, less deserving of simple human dignity than the ‘majority’ population.

We must come together now with more determination and in greater numbers than ever before to stand against ethno-nationalism, neo-fascism, racism, xenophobia and anti-migrant hatred in their most virulent forms. But we must include in this the racism of the state itself that manifests so clearly in the cruelty and inhumanity of the Direct Provision and deportation system. The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland and the Anti-Racism Network Ireland call on the Department of Justice and Equality to vindicate many of the fundamental human rights that are violated through the system of Direct Provision such as the right to work, privacy which includes private and family life, the right to dignity, and to ensure that the best interest of the child prevails for every child in Ireland irrespective of nationality or immigration status. Both the Ombudsman and the Children’s Ombudsman have said that the system of Direct Provision is not fit for purpose. And recently, the special rapporteur on child protection published recommendations that include the abolition of the abhorrent system of Direct Provision.

Asylum seekers are not alone in being the targets of the violence of the neoliberal state that is only interested it seems in the profits of the few at the expense of the many. Look at how the Direct Provision system has become the model for how people who are being made homeless are ‘accommodated’ in hotels, hostels and hubs where children’s most important years and experiences are deformed by the state. Look at how the Traveller community has suffered extreme discrimination and abuse at the hands of the state and the destitution that people are forced to live in. We do not forget that this state-sanctioned destitution resulted in the terrible deaths by fire of ten people in Carrickmines. We stand with all the people affected by the shoddy policies of this state and we stand with those people who have mobilised successfully to change these policies over the last few years, winning struggles for ethnicity, reproductive justice and marriage equality.

Both the opportunists of the state and the opportunists of the far right want to set us against each other. Instead of playing into their hands, let us recognise that our struggles are one struggle.

There can be no justice for people seeking asylum until the system of Direct Provision is abolished and the deportation regime dismantled.