Asylum seekers are not ‘things’

mosney2In July 2010 the government of the Republic of Ireland began a review of its policies of dispersal and direct provision for asylum seekers. This may sound  positive  particularly in light of the criticism by the Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) in 2003, that the direct provision scheme is ‘gravely detrimental of the human rights of a group of people legally present in the country and to whom the government has moral and legal obligations under national and international law’, and recommendation that the scheme be ‘abandoned immediately’.
However, the review is more in line with FLAC’s 2009 criticism, that by entering into contractual arrangements with private profit-making companies to provide accommodation and meals to asylum seekers, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has created a ‘direct provision industry’. This ‘industry’ makes a profit on the backs of asylum seekers, costing the Irish tax payers €70,892 per resident per annum in 2009. In short, the review of the direct provision system does not stem from concerns about asylum seekers’ humanitarian needs, or about the inadequate living conditions in many of the direct provision centres, which some asylum seekers liken to ‘camps’, but is rather part of the state’s policy of limiting its financial commitment to service provision to the most vulnerable so as to cut public expenditure..
Thus, when in July 2010, 111 residents of the former holiday camp turned direct provision centre Mosney in Co Meath, were told they were being transferred to other centres, they protested against, saying that they have become part of the Mosney community. However, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was explicit about the reason for the transfers (which went down from 150 to 111): ‘There is severe financial pressure on the government and the Department of Justice has a duty to act in the best interests of taxpayers,’ said a spokesman for Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern. A value-for-money audit found savings could be made by transferring some of the 800 people living at Mosney to direct provision hostels, mainly in Dublin. In a letter to The Irish Times, a group of academics argued that this move was ‘a further instance of the profit-before-people mentality that is rehearsed every time the government seeks to remove or reduce social provision.’
This was substantiated by further moves in August when, although the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service was facing a backlog of 11,700 ‘leave to remain’ cases, the DJELR– due merely to financial considerations – announced a review into cases of asylum seekers who have been waiting for five years or more for a decision. While not an amnesty, the review may benefit a small number of asylum seekers with a view of granting them humanitarian leave to remain. Good news, though this announcement was followed by another, that several hundreds asylum seekers will be moved to new accommodation centres over the next 18 months following a government decision to implement the key recommendations of a value-for-money and policy review, which found the Government is paying too much to house and feed asylum seekers because it does not run fully open tender competitions and maintains too much ‘excess capacity’ at accommodation centres nationwide.
So – because the government operates a less than transparent and fair tenders policies and because too many operators of the direct provision holding camps were making profit on the backs of asylum seekers, residents can be moved like chess pieces, regardless of the links they may have formed within the centres and with the local population.
Asylum seekers, for too long demonised as ‘costing too much’ – even though they are prevented from working (and paying taxes and thus contributing to the economy) and criminalised as ‘bogus refugees’ and, according to the former Minister for Justice, as ‘telling cock and bull stories’ – are becoming ‘things’ that can be pushed around at the state’s whim.
In a study the Trinity Immigration Initiative’s Migrant Networks Project conducted on the experiences of Somali refugees in Ireland, participants spoke of being constantly moved, of having no permanence or sense of belonging, and of not being provided with any support once they are granted refugee status in terms of accommodation, education and employment.
The current government policy of shifting and moving people around to accommodate the state’s needs to sort out the economy is reminiscent of the French sociologist Etienne Balibar ‘crisis racism’ theory, according to which the system blames the newcomers for its own faililngs.
But asylum seekers are not things, but rather human beings belonging, as another French thinker, Alain Badiou argued, to our own world, as there is ‘only one world’.