The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) is appalled by the recklessness displayed by the Department of Justice and Equality in responding to Covid19 in Direct Provision. While the news of additional rooms to facilitate self isolation for people in Direct Provision when needed provides some relief, the measures announced by the government do not adequately address the situation of asylum seekers having difficulty observing social distancing.
At the very start of this pandemic, MASI and other groups raised concerns about the devastating impact Covid19 would have in Direct Provision. There are crucial measures MASI deemed necessary for the protection of everyone in Direct Provision following government’s advice to observe social distancing and we have consistently raised these. They are:
- Protection of elderly asylum seekers,
- Protection of healthcare workers living in Direct Provision,
- Protection of asylum seekers with underlying health conditions,
- Protection of all asylum seekers in Direct Provision by ensuring that singles and families have self contained units to facilitate social distancing in line with the government’s own guidelines and move away from the congregated nature of Direct Provision.
The announcement by Minister Charlie Flanagan and Minister David Stanton attempts to address 1, 2 and 3, which affects an acute minority of people in Direct Provision whilst ignoring everyone else in centres where observing social distancing is impossible. The Department of Justice and Equality refused to provide self contained units for singles and families to facilitate social distancing thus minimise the spread of the virus. MASI is gravely concerned about the situation in many Direct Provision centres where parents have had to keep children in their bedrooms for weeks as every other space in the centre is communal and poses serious risks for their wellbeing. Asylum seeking parents in Temple Direct Provision centre in Moate, Westmeath have raised concerns about their children’s wellbeing and the risks associated with having to share a kitchen with dozens of people.
It is worth noting that one of the first asylum seekers who tested positive for Covid-19 in a Direct Provision centre in Cork had to share a communal kitchen with others. The fears of parents in Direct Provision centres where families do not have self contained units are very real and are heightened by news of more asylum seekers testing positive for Covid-19. Equally valid are the fears of single people in Direct Provision centres such as Kinsale Road – Cork, Knockalisheen – Clare, Great Western – Galway, Balseskin – Dublin, Central Hostel – Clare and others where communal spaces are unavoidable. And the HSE tells us to avoid communal sleeping areas yet asylum seekers had to pack their clothes in bin bags at short notice and move to hotels where they are still expected to share bedrooms and other intimate living spaces.
The response by the Department of Justice and Equality has been shambolic on Covid-19 in Direct Provision. Putting a sticker on the floor in a tiny kitchen shared by 19 men who also have to share bedrooms and use communal toilets does not give asylum seekers assurance that they are protected. What MASI gets in calls, texts, and emails from asylum seekers is a lot of anxiety over people not being able to observe social distancing because Direct Provision by design is congregated with little to no scope for individuals to distance themselves from others. This has raised tensions in some Direct Provision centres with asylum seekers having to negotiate space that simply isn’t there. As well as having to deal with all the issues which have prevailed in Direct Provision since the system was created 20 years ago. If the Ministers responsible for Justice and Equality were sincere about caring for asylum seekers, then MASI would not be struggling to persuade the Department of Justice and Equality to provide self contained units for singles and families in Direct Provision. The unwillingness to do so is a clear demonstration of their carelessness. Any public health expert who tells you that it is okay for asylum seekers to share bedrooms, toilets, showers, kitchens and congregate in canteens if you put posters on the walls and stickers on the floor, in response to this contagious disease, is an expert in name only.
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
*See pictures below. Photos are from MASI records. We hope to publish all of them on the MASI website. Forever grateful to the brave asylum seekers who take pictures of the spaces they exist in.