For Immediate Release, Sunday 5th January 2020
We reject claims made by the Department of Justice and Equality and the management of East End Hotel in Portarlington that footage showing appalling conditions in the centre was staged by asylum seekers. At 7:21pm on the 3rd January 2020, MASI tweeted a video recorded by asylum seekers in the East End Hotel in Portarlington. The video showed 10 beds in a room that has no windows. The room also does not have a cupboard for the men to store their clothes. In the video, some of their clothes can be seen on the beds and on the floor. About six months ago, on the 5th August 2019, MASI issued a statement after visiting several centres, where we noted how appalled we were that the East End Hotel had 5 people in one room. For this, the owner was being paid at least €5250 per month – the average for a Direct Provision centre. And since this is an emergency Direct Provision centre and the average cost is more than double for emergency accommodation, the owner is likely being paid a lot more than this per month.
We met with staff from the Department of Justice and Equality including the Head of RIA (Reception and Integration Agency) on the 29th August 2019 and raised the indignity of having to live with no privacy in overcrowded rooms. The Department seemed to be more concerned about number of beds they can find and not the rights of the people being moved around the country like a Yoyo with no say on the matter.
Such is the case of the men who shared the video. The 19 men had been staying in Treacy’s Hotel in Co. Monaghan before being transferred to the East End Hotel in Portarlington on the 3rd January 2020. This is when they were shocked and appalled to find 10 beds in a room with no windows and cupboards to store clothes.
At 9:36pm on the 3rd January 2020, Barry Whyte from Newstalk shared the same video. Senator Catherine Ardagh called on the centre to be shut down and Minister Charlie Flanagan claimed that he has sought a report from the appropriate authorities and will share the report with Senator Ardagh.
On the 4th January 2020, the management in the East End Hotel went to the room and moved some of the beds into one corner, embarrassed by the video circulating online. The Department of Justice and Equality issued a statement which suggests that they called management in the East End Hotel who claims the conditions in the room were staged by the asylum seekers. They also claim that different footage recorded by different asylum seekers, showing similar conditions in the East End Hotel, published by the Independent on 5th October 2019, was staged. Contrary to the claims of management and the statement released by the Department of Justice and Equality, staffs claim that they did indeed put the 10 beds in the room because another room was not ready for occupation when the men moved in on the 3rd January 2020. At no point did the Department of Justice and Equality speak with the affected asylum seekers to find out what had happened. A phone call to the greedy management who placed the 10 beds in that room was enough for the Department of Justice and Equality.
On the 4th January 2020, MASI coordinator Lucky Khambule, and members Donnah Vuma and Bulelani Mfaco, travelled to Shannon Lodge Hotel in Banagher, Co. Offaly to meet with asylum seekers who had several concerns about their accommodation. While in the meeting, our phones kept ringing, alerting us that management in the East End Hotel was moving beds around again. When our team was done in Banagher, Lucky and Bulelani travelled to the East End Hotel in Portarlington and were refused entry. The staff member at the door told us that whoever we were there to see could meet us outside. In contrast, racist Fine Gael’s by-election candidate Verona Murphy had easy access to a Direct Provision centre and we are denied entry.
Denied entry, MASI met outside the centre with some of the asylum seekers staying in the East End Hotel and were horrified by the testimony they shared with us from being threatened by management, told you can go back to your country if you are not happy, and being denied an empty glass to use to drink water. This showed us that the problems in the East End Hotel are beyond just number of beds in the room but extend to the general conduct of the management team.
At the very heart of these overcrowded rooms in Direct Provision and emergency Direct Provision centres is profiteering through the asylum system. Private operators of these centres are paid public money by the Department of Justice and Equality for each person staying in the centre, not per bedroom. In other words, the more people you have in a centre, the more money you can make. In July 2018, we were told by the Department of Justice and Equality that the average cost per person in Direct Provision is €35 per day which brings it to €1050 per person for each month. The Hazel Hotel Direct Provision Centre in Monasterevin had as many as 8 men sharing a bedroom which earned the operator €8 400 per month at minimum for that 1 bedroom. Emergency Direct Provision centres cost more with average being €99-€100 per day for each asylum seeker. This facilitates the overcrowding we have seen as owners rush to cash in on emergency accommodation while it lasts.
On the 5th January 2020 we received texts from asylum seekers in the East End Hotel in Portarlington telling us that they have since been moved to a different room that has 5 people (do the maths). Some expressed their dissatisfaction with the conduct of the staff and wish to be transferred to another centre. The least we expect is for asylum seekers to be treated with some semblance of decency and this is not too much to ask for.
MASI is appalled by the conduct of both the Department of Justice and Equality and the Management in the East End Hotel who claimed that the 10 beds in the room were staged by the asylum seekers. We have seen footage where the management in the East End Hotel told asylum seekers that it is in fact RIA in the Department of Justice and Equality who allocated them the overcrowded room with no windows. The asylum seekers had been staying in Treacys Hotel in Monaghan and did not see the logic of being moved from one emergency accommodation centre to another, especially one with such appalling conditions.
MASI has since reported the matter to the local fire officer in the county council and we will write to the ombudsman seeking an independent investigation into the matter of overcrowding in emergency accommodation and in Direct Provision centres since the Department of Justice and Equality has proved to be incapable of addressing this. We are deeply concerned by the uncaring attitude displayed by the Department of Justice and Equality in the handling of this matter. We are not surprised however by the Department of Justice and Equality’s lack of action – the Department and the commercial providers are in this together. The Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan was in Mosney recently taking pictures with the same owner who threatened asylum seekers who were protesting in Mosney Direct Provision centre last year. Such a cosy relationship between the State and private operators of Direct Provision centres creates perfect conditions for abuse of asylum seekers.
None of this is new. Many of the issues with Direct Provision have been observed and documented for almost 20 years now. The Ombudsman has said that Direct Provision is not suitable for long-term stays and yet there are people who have spent years in Direct Provision with no idea of when they are getting out. The Children’s Ombudsman has also said that no child should grow up in Direct Provision. The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection said Direct Provision must be abolished, and asylum seekers be resettled in the community and provided with supports to live independently. The Faculty of Paediatrics in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland recently published a report calling on the Irish government to abolish the abhorrent system of Direct Provision because of its negative impact on the lives of asylum seekers, particularly children. The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on the Irish government to phase out the system of Direct Provision, end profiteering through the system, and relax the restrictions on access to the labour market for asylum seekers. The flaws in the Direct Provision system are well documented and there is absolutely no need for anyone to stage anything – the conditions people are being forced to live in have been apparent to everyone for the last twenty years. The government of Ireland must listen and end the abhorrent system of Direct Provision.
About MASI – the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland is a grassroots organisation based in Ireland. We are people who are or have been in the asylum and direct provision system in Ireland, working and advocating together for justice, freedom and dignity for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Our focus is on the Right to Education and the Right to Work for all people seeking asylum, on the complete abolition of direct provision and an end to deportations.
For information / enquiries please contact: Bulelani Mfaco +353 89 474 2911
Click here for our submission to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @MASI_ASYLUM