World Refugee Day – A Call for Solidarity within Ireland

June 23, 2020

Written by IGHN Key Correspondent, Ellen O’Hanrahan, 2nd Year Nursing Student, University College Cork

22nd June 2020

The United Nations World Refugee Day took place last Saturday, the 20th of June. The day aims to both honour the bravery and recognise the plight of refugees worldwide. 2020 has proven to be a radical year in world history, the COVID-19 pandemic and The Black Lives Matter Movement following the recent murder of George Floyd have marked what could be a turning point in Global Health.

The new programme for government as agreed by Fine Fáil, Fine Gael and The Green Party announced that a long term approach will be taken to abolish the direct provision system in Ireland, this marks an important milestone for activists around Ireland who have campaigned tirelessly throughout the years. However, this system will not be abolished overnight.

The Direct provision system was set up as a short term solution to respond to the increase in asylum applications that Ireland received  at the turn of the century. Full board, prisonlike, Accommodation centres were set up all over Ireland to house its refugees and asylum seekers. With shared bathrooms, bedrooms and canteen facilities the centres soon became overcrowded. By 2009 refugees and asylum seekers are not entitled to any form of social welfare.

Today, A meagre allowance of €38.80 per week is given to adults and €29.80 to children. Considering most direct provision centres are in remote areas in Ireland, this sum  is not enough for someone to use public transport to attend regular hospital appointments, counselling or take other essential trips. 

There are around 40 Direct Provision Centres in Ireland. They have been described as the Magdalene Laundries of our generation. The centres are private-for- profit. It is a system that marginalises the most vulnerable in our society, often for years, strips them of their rights, leaving them institutionalised, depressed and unable to plan for their future.

In light of the pandemic The Lancet Migration Call to action emphasises the importance of moving vulnerable migrant populations to places that are safe. The Mc Mahon report, which was published in 2015 highlighted key changes that needed to be made to the system if it could not be abolished totally. Five years later, the government is only beginning to discuss some of these pressing issues and it still has a long way to go before it can begin to address them.  

The Irish government’s response to outbreaks of COVID-19 in Direct Provision centres has been highly criticised. There are over 6300 people living in these centres. The Shared accommodation and eating facilities make it impossible to physically distance. Many residents report to have locked their children in their bedrooms for weeks on end to protect them.

On the 31st of March, the minister for justice and equality, Charlie Flanagan announced a significant increase in accommodation for “vulnerable residents.” The HSE guidelines define people in “long stay settings” (like direct provision centres) as high risk and therefore vulnerable. Healthcare workers living in centres are eligible to apply for HSE temporary accommodation but other essential workers have no option but to return to the centres.

As of May 26th 180 direct provision residents across Ireland tested positive for the virus. Today the exact figure remains unclear but there is no doubt that clusters of the virus have emerged in centres across the country. Those who test positive are transferred to isolation centres elsewhere. The system is flawed as it leaves behind many residents who are likely to have been exposed to the virus already. There are no provisions for asymptomatic cases which recent modelling studies suggest could account for up to 41% of transmissions. 

The HSE released posters and information booklets on COVID-19, online in several languages. There is very little mental health support available in languages besides English at this time.

A statement from MASI, Movement of Asylum seekers Ireland, reveals the distressing reality of the situation for refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland today.Irish society must immediately address the human rights abuse and racism that is intrinsically linked to the direct provision system. Enough damage has been done.

There are many, simple things that people can do to stand up to this oppressive system. One can support initiatives that protect refugees and asylum seekers like The Sanctuary Masks Initiative which provides face masks for people living in direct provision or The Irish Refugee Council buy one gift one campaign. Another great way to support people is to fundraise for the Irish Refugee Council or MASI (Movement of Asylum seekers Ireland)

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