Since Frances Fitzgerald became Minister for Justice, we have been hearing a lot about the need to ‘do something’ about the direct provision centres. Minister of State at the Department of Justice Aodhán O Riordáin said that asylum seekers should be allowed to work after a certain period of time, a right asylum seekers are accorded in all but one other EU state, even though his minister is opposed to asylum seekers working. I suppose she is following the objection of successive ministers, worried it might make Ireland a ‘soft touch’. Indeed, in recent weeks we have heard scaring rumours about asylum figures ‘surging’ to a few hundreds; official Ireland is getting worried it is facing another ‘refugee problem’, even though it has ensured that asylum applications remain low, and acceptance rates are the lowest in the EU.
In reality we are talking about merely 4,000 asylum seekers housed in the utterly inappropriate direct provision centres, about which much has been written recently, even though they remain hidden from public view. Residents, many of whom have stayed in the hostels for many years, cannot determine where they live, are often forced to share rooms with strangers, and with their children, and are forced to eat unpalatable and monotonous food. Hotel managers often punish residents daring to complain. Women say they do not feel safe and the Children’s ombudsman Emily Logan has spoken publicly on behalf of the 1,600 children whose safety and chances of attaining second and third level education are severely compromised, even though she is legally barred from investigating issues relating to asylum and direct provision. Minister O Riordáin called the system ‘inhumane’ and even Ms Fitzgerald expressed her concerns. What Minister O Riordán did not say was that the direct provision system, cast as ‘costing the taxpayer too much’, actually benefits private Irish money making businesses running the asylum centres.
Regardless of government talk about the need to reform the asylum centres, the most effective opposition to the system has come from the residents themselves. Thus for instance, the 250 residents of the Kinsale Direct Provision Centre, some of whom have lived there for ten years, have gone on hunger strike last week, and have been blockading the entrance to the centre demanding: ’allow us to work, cook for our children and have our freedom’.
Residents in Ashbourne House in Glounthaune and other centres, who have also staged protests, are backed by Antiracism Network Ireland and Anti Deportation Ireland, which held a public protest in Dublin last week.
The idea of incarcerating people who legally seek asylum in these direct provision centres, with no say about the direction of their lives, is simply unacceptable. I never understand how Irish people can sleep peacefully when human beings fleeing persecution, war, torture, loss of family and friends are herded into these centres, and can be deported any time, but are commonly not deported because deportations are simply too costly and contradict any human rights legislation. A mere reform of the system, more children’s toys, better menus or cleaner sheets, cannot replace freedom.
We must all side with the hunger striking asylum seekers and demand from Ms Fitzgerald and Mr O Riordain that they close all direct provision centres, put an end to all deportations, and invite these 4,000 people to be regularised, be granted residence, be allowed to work and study, and lead a normal life. Anything else is totally unacceptable.