The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland is appalled by the discriminatory response to the Covid19 pandemic in Direct Provision. On the 20th March 2020, MASI asked members of the public to email Minister Charlie Flanagan with a simple ask: protect asylum seekers in Direct Provision by ensuring that they are able observe all the Health Service Executive guidelines on social distancing and self isolation, particularly for asylum seekers 60 years of age or older, people with pre-existing health conditions, and asylum seekers in shared and crammed bedrooms, and other congregated gatherings such as canteens during meal times.
This is because asylum seekers around the country are following news and updates from the Health Service Executive on what measures they can take to protect themselves and people around them from the Covid19 pandemic. The guidelines were also posted on notice boards in Direct Provision centres and efforts were made to translate them into some foreign languages. However, the HSE posters on social distancing are useless to an asylum seeker sharing a tiny bedroom with a stranger or as many as 7 other strangers, having to use communal bathrooms and congregate in a canteen for meals 3 times a day. MASI was not surprised to learn that an asylum seeker in a hostel styled Direct Provision centre contracted the virus. We are pleased to hear that he is doing well.
The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland is concerned about the wellbeing of asylum seekers in Direct Provision. The Department of Justice and Equality has refused to ensure that asylum seekers in Direct Provision are able to observe social distancing despite knowing that the asylum seeker who tested positive for Covid19 shared a bedroom with 2 other men. The government has effectively abandoned asylum seekers and left them at the mercy of greedy operators of Direct Provision centres. A situation that has led to massive disparities in the way each centre is responding to the Covid19 pandemic. Some centres have ceased all congregating in canteens at meal times while others continue as normal with the addition of Covid19 notices on the walls. Asylum seekers are still sharing bedrooms, an untenable situation, more so for those who work in healthcare sector.
The Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) offers lessons for the Department of Justice and Equality. DRHE was able to source self contained units for homeless people while the Department of Justice and Equality rejected MASI’s call for same measures for asylum seekers in Direct Provision. This highlights the fact that the Department of Justice and Equality should not be providing accommodation. That responsibility has to be taken away from them entirely. At present, Irish people are told to observe social distancing in a bid to halt the spread of Covid19. Asylum seekers are deliberately placed in a situation where such social distancing is impossible to observe. An asylum seeker who responded to the news that the Department of Justice and Equality is not going to provide self contained units so that asylum seekers can observe HSE guidelines on stopping the spread of Covid19 said “Aye! Can they line us up and shoot us all in Direct Provision and emergency accommodation, it’ll really be quicker and less messy for all of us.” This perfectly sums up the level of anxiety being experienced by asylum seekers who have little to no control over their lives.
This is further exacerbated by the disgraceful and discriminatory decision taken by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to exclude asylum seekers from the Covid19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment after they lost their jobs as a result of Covid19 while living in Direct Provision. This further entrenches the poverty asylum seekers are forced to endure for years on end while waiting for decisions. Some can barely afford to buy hand sanitisers. MASI calls on all elected representatives, including the caretaker government, to take appropriate steps to protect asylum seekers and reverse the cruel decisions that have been taken by the Department of Justice and Equality, and Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection which effectively endanger all of us as they make it harder to curb the spread of Covid19.
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.
Media Enquiries: Bulelani Mfaco – +353 89 474 2911