A good few people have been asking me about the direct provision system in Ireland over the last while and I was kind of shamed myself to realise that lots of people don’t really know what it is. As part of my attempt to not be stuck in an echo chamber talking only to people who are already engaged I thought I’d write up a small basic explanation of what it actually entails – I am no human rights lawyer so I am only doing my best to explain it simply and in a way that some people might find useful. Please feel free to share or correct or jump in.
Every country in the UN is obliged to allow people to seek protection from persecution they face in another country. We all have this right, its from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 14.1 Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. ‘Persecution’ means that the person is in danger and this can be for any number of reasons, war, political or religious beliefs or activities trade union activity, famine, ethnic cleansing, sexuality and lots of other reasons.
Direct provision is the method by which Ireland responds to its obligation under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to allow people to ask the state to give them asylum. It was started in the year 2000 as a temporary measure because there were an increase in applications for asylum around then. Before reading the next piece I must tell you that at the moment in Ireland there are people who have lived for up to 11 years in direct provision. I also heard from a teacher in Galway of a child in her class who has lived ten years of her life in direct provision so far.
Basically it means that the needs of asylum seekers are to be provided directly to them rather than allowing them the means or opportunities to do that themselves. Direct provision centres are like big hostels where people live while waiting for a decision on whether their request to be allowed to have asylum in Ireland will be granted. If the asylum seeker is decided to be genuinely fleeing persecution then they must be granted ‘refugee status’ which means they get to live here in Ireland with the same rights and entitlements that citizens have. Ireland has one of the lower rates in the EU (we are 21st out of 30 countries) for granting refugee status to people (3% of applications).
But back to direct provision- the people who live in direct provision live for the most part in dorm type 4 bed rooms which they share with strangers, family groupings often get a room to themselves, usually with parents sharing with their children. Whilst living in these centres people must eat canteen style food at certain fixed hours every day and they are not except in a few exceptional places allowed any cooking facilities of their own. Asylum seekers may not be away from the centres for extended periods of time without seeking the permission of staff and they are often required to sign in daily so as not to forfeit their place.
During their time in DP as it’s known the adult asylum seekers receive a ‘comfort payment’ of €19.10 per week and for each child they receive about €14 (this was increased by about €5.00 recently which is why I am not sure of the figure) The adult amount has not increased since direct provision started. Although asylum seekers are given medical cards they receive no other payments and are prohibited from seeking employment of any kind while their cases are being heard so unless they have independent means they are maintained in poverty.
The lack of money, or permission to work and the isolated locations of many centres mean that many asylum seekers despite living in Ireland are not in any real way able to be part of the communities and places that they live. In my own experience many asylum seekers manage to circumvent all these difficulties and restrictions by making huge efforts to volunteer or join religious or sporting communities but it is very difficult for them.
Depression and poor mental health as well as post-traumatic stress from the situations they have fled from are prevalent in the centres often making life worrisome and dangerous for young children who especially should not be living in such situations.
Children’s allowance which is supposedly available without discrimination to every child in the state cannot be claimed by asylum seekers. Children from direct provision centres go to school like any other child here although this too is very difficult for many as simple things like having their friends home to play or going to birthday parties are made really difficult by the lack of private space and funds. Also when they finish school as many of them already have they have no access to Irish Universities unless they can pay the overseas student fees which can be up to €15,000 per year – an impossibility if they live on €19.10 per week and they may not enter the workforce either meaning that they leave school and have no opportunities available. *Thanks to Annie Asgard for the reminder: This year a scheme was launched to allow certain people in the protection system(asylum seekers) to apply for grants to attend university however while welcome the conditions attached rule out almost everyone as people must have been 5 years in direct provision and 5 years in the irish school system and not be subject to a deportation order – which rules out all but a tiny number.
People living in the DP system usually have no idea how long their cases are going to take and so they exist in a limbo of enforced poverty, idleness and isolation. Very often their skills are going out of date. They are forced into a position where they have been strategically and structurally dis-empowered. They often endure this for years without hearing any news on their cases. The decisions eventually made are often apparently arbitrary and seemingly senseless. If they come to a stage where they are finally denied asylum here they face a deportation order – this means that the Gardai or immigration officials can come for them at any time and forcibly deport them from the state.
Deportation as you can probably imagine is a terrifying prospect. I remember when I worked for Amnesty International in Galway city one of our occasional volunteers ( a cheerful and outgoing young man who could do almost anything from computer programming to building shelves) came to us in absolute and total terror because he had received a letter saying he was being deported- he was certain he would be killed if he was returned home and I have never seem or heard from him again. In international human rights law it is supposed to be illegal and a breach of the Convention relating to the status of Refugees to return a person to a state where they may be in danger. Ireland has behaved haphazardly in this regard with at least one deported asylum seeker being killed almost immediately
One hugely important thing to say about Direct Provision is that many of the centres in Ireland are run by private business owners who profit hugely from the lucrative state contracts. Companies such as Aramark and Bridgestock and East Coast Catering are also contracted to run the state owned companies. The company that runs Mosney Direct provision centre in Meath declared 5.6 million profits before it offshored itself and didn’t have to publish them anymore. More info on that here
One last thing to say is that currently in the Globe House Direct Provision Centre there is an Iranian man Amjad Rosstami on hunger strike so far for 34 days because he has been issued with a deportation order to send him back to Iran. He fears so much what will happen to him on his return that he has been reported as saying that he would rather die here than be sent back. His situation is desperate and his health is declining and this system is being run by our governments with our taxes and we need to do our very very best to end it.