I have written about the direct provision system several times. It is an inhumane system, in which hostel managers have the discretion to maltreat asylum seekers at will, and in which asylum seekers live in ‘zones of exception’ where the law pertaining to Irish citizens does not apply. Several reports have detailed the problems faced by asylum seekers in direct provision. However, although asylum seekers are never just victims of the system and although many have used inventive strategies to improve their condition despite not being allowed to work or study, only recently has a group of residents decided to spell the realities of their incarceration out.
Contrary to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA)’s own House Rules and Procedures Booklet, this group, residing in Eyre Powell Hotel in Co Kildare, has outlined the realities of their existence. Let me look at some of RIA’s regulations and some of the realities.
Regulations: (1.9) commits to cater for ‘ethnic food preferences… tea and coffee making facilities… outside normal mealtimes’, and (1.10) ‘provide soap, shampoo and toothpaste… give new supplies when you need them’.
Reality: lack of basic provisions – no tissues, soap or shampoos, none of these issued after 5 pm, and no ethnic foods’ just a steady stream of chicken nuggets, white rice, chicken burgers, red sauce, steamed vegetables and chips daily. Lack of toddler appropriate foods; toddlers are forced to go hungry as they are unable to eat adult foods.
Regulations (1.7): the centre will provide varied and nutritional breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Reality: lack of breakfast (staff often say there are no eggs, sugar, coffee, cereal or milk and provide expired milk). We sometimes go hungry … no salads, few fruits…not enough cutlery and crockery… Halal food not provided, utensils to serve pork used to serve all foods…fake menus displayed and staff dismiss complaints…
Regulations (1.2): accommodation must be safe, hospitable and clean… (1.15) the centre will give you adequate beddings and bed linen… and replace bed linen and towels when needed…
Reality: dilapidated furniture in common areas, insects, cockroaches, mice infestation, poor hygiene, poor upkeep. No extra beddings apart from initial set on arrival. Requests ignored. The washing machines are regularly breaking down.
In addition, and most crucially, residents are met with harassment and intimidation by staff. Management has used foul language when addressing residents, threatening them with transfer to a distant location. Management treats people of white or Arabic origin differently from black Africans. The residents provided a photograph of racist language displayed in the reception area.
The realities of life in asylum hostels as outlined by this brave group of residents remind us, once again, of the precarious situation of asylum seekers, who are here legally to seek our protection, but who are incarcerated in these holding camps. Not allowed to work or study in third level institutions, they are a captive population, living on a ‘comfort allowance’ of €19.10 per adult per week (not raised since 2001), which they often have to spend on basic needs. The state, but also we, its citizens, places these humans fleeing persecution at the mercy of ruthless managers, whose sole aim is to make money from the misfortunes of their charges.
The only solution is to close all asylum hostels immediately and regularise the position of the small number of asylum seekers currently in the state (in December 2011 there were merely 5,423 asylum seekers in direct provision centres, about 0.02% of the Irish population), allow them to work and be productive and put an end to this travesty.