- 27 Mar 20
With two asylum seekers already testing positive, there is huge concern among those in direct provision that the prevailing conditions are a recipe for infection with coronavirus. The centre at Ciúin House in Leitrim is causing particular concern...
Asylum seekers living in a Leitrim-based direct provision centre are urging the Government to facilitate their transfer to more sanitary accommodation for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
Characteristically, direct provision centres are more likely to have people living in close proximity to one another, in spaces that are too small and cramped to allow for the kind of social distancing the government and the HSE are demanding of citizens.
On Monday of this week, in response to concerns about the spread of the virus in direct provision centres, the Department of Justice said that it is working with the HSE to "pilot an off-site self-isolation facility" for refugees and asylum seekers who are showing symptoms consistent with having contracted the coronavirus.
Asylum seekers, however, argue that, in the absence of meaningful wider preventative measures, separating those with apparent symptoms will not stop the spread of the virus.
So far, two people – accommodated in two separate direct provision centres – have tested positive for coronavirus.
Speaking to Hot Press from the Leitrim direct provision centre, Ciúin House, one resident – who requested anonymity due to the fear of negative repercussions in the asylum seeking process – said that it is almost impossible for residents, while sharing food in the same ‘dining’ room, to remain over two metres apart from one another. However, the consumption of food is only allowed in the dining area.
"We still can't eat food in our own rooms," the resident said. Attempts have been made to raise the issue with management in Ciúin House. However, so far this has been to no avail.
“Can I please remind everyone in this house,” a text sent last week from management to residents – which Hot Press has seen – said, “that there is no eating in any of the bedrooms under no circumstances is this allowed.” The text went on to urge people to wash dishes, including their children’s. “There will be a room inspection tomorrow morning Thursday 19th March at 11.00am,” it concluded.
The resident also alleged that there isn’t a single hand-sanitising dispenser available at the centre; that the facility's chefs are not equipped with protective gear while preparing meals; and that gloves are not available.
When Hot Press put the issues raised by residents to Ciúin House, they said that they had no comment to make.
"We want to be transferred to another accommodation,” the resident told Hot Press. “There are a lot of children and people in bad condition here."
There is no doubt that conditions in Ciúin House are becoming a matter of grave concern. A refugee and migrant rights advocacy group has penned an open letter to Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, calling for the closure of the Ciúin House centre.
Refugee and Migrant Solidarity Ireland (RAMSI), has warned the Minister that if conditions at the centre remain unchanged, residents will be vulnerable to contracting the virus and may "potentially die".
Sian Cowman, one of the organisers of RAMSI, told Hot Press that she understands that the Government is under a huge amount of pressure, in relation to combatting the pandemic. But she insisted that moving asylum seekers out of Ciúin is essential.
"At the moment, there are plenty of empty accommodations across the country,” Sian Cowman said. “For example, student accommodations, have been practically evacuated – so there is the capacity to carry out this move.
"Some of the money that is being directed toward direct provision contracts could be spent on renting accommodation and putting these asylum seekers into it."
Bulelani Mfaco, a refugee from Cape Town and spokesperson of Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), lives in Knocknalisheen direct provision centre in Limerick. Speaking to Hot Press, he also said that already poor conditions in direct provision centres have become worse as a result of the pandemic.
"In direct provision centres we don't have the freedom or agency that is required for following social-distancing guidelines," Bulelani said.
Most residents are afraid to speak out, due to the fear of being separated from their friends and transferred to a new location. For those with children, Bulelani Mfaco said, this is an especially frightening thought.
Bulelani added that MASI has been in contact with the Department of Justice, and that he was disheartened by the Minister's lack of action.
In response, the Department of Justice has said that “a dedicated team” has been established manage any issues related to the coronavirus in all accommodation centres.
The country’s direct provision system was established in 1999, as a response to an increase in the number of asylum applications received by the State.
Refugees living in those centres receive an allowance per week of €29.80 for children and €38.80 for adults.
• Pic by Shamim Malekmian: social distancing is not an option in many direct provision centres