- 30 Apr 20
As many as 20 people have tested positive for coronavirus, in a Direct Provision centre in the small Co. Kerry town of Cahersiveen. As a result, asylum seekers are in effect being imprisoned.
There has been a major coronavirus outbreak in a Direct Provision Centre in the village of Cahersiveen, Co Kerry.
The outbreak has precipitated a serious crisis at the centre, prompting refugees there to plead with the State to close down the site and move them elsewhere. There has also been an outcry among locals wanting the centre to be closed down and the residents moved elsewhere.
The grim news is that over 20 residents living in Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen, including a seven-year-old boy, have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks.
Some of the infected migrants have now been moved to self-isolation facilities in Co Cork. However, remaining residents, living in that is a crowded centre, are urging the Government to close down the site, as the number of refugees with symptoms continues to grow.
Speaking to Hot Press, a resident who requested anonymity, due to the fear of negative repercussions in the asylum-seeking process, said that over 80 people live in Skellig Star Hotel. Amongst them, many have existing health conditions and remain highly susceptible to infection.
“Some people get tested, and we get the results two days later,” the resident told Hot Press. “We find out that they were infected, even though they weren’t showing any symptoms. There are many vulnerable people here. There are people with cardiovascular problems and there are diabetic patients. We have pregnant women here.”
The resident is not critical of the management of the centre. It is acknowledged that protective gear and sanitisers are available. But the centre is too small and the number of residents too high to make any kind of proper social-distancing a viable option.
PREVALENCE OF CORONAVIRUS
Over the weekend, residents of Skellig Star Hotel staged a protest outside their centre, holding signs that read, “Move us out.”
In recent days, however, the individual we spoke to said, “We are not allowed to leave the compound.”
This was borne out on the RTÉ news tonight, with film of residents who were effectively imprisoned, behind bars, holding placards up for the cameras and passers-by to read.
“There was a letter from the Justice Department and the HSE, saying we shouldn’t leave the compound, so we are not allowed to do any exercise or to do our shopping,” the resident confirmed.
The poor quality of the food in the centre often prompts asylum seekers to visit nearby shops to buy more nutritious meals. Now even that small luxury is denied to them.
The source said that the manager of the new centre is “always very calm and helpful.” But subsisting on the centre’s food can be difficult.
Muslim migrants, who are celebrating what they identify as the ‘holy month’ of Ramadan by fasting, have also been unable to buy nourishing food like dates and nuts, that are required to sustain them until Iftar, a time in the evening when Muslims are allowed to break their fast.
“When we were allowed outside,” the resident continued, “local shopkeepers would often ask us to leave, as the Cahersiveen community is acutely aware of the prevalence of coronavirus in the centre.”
LOCKING UP RESIDENTS
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice spoke to Hot Press. “Generally, residents of Centres are subject to the same current public health measures as the rest of the population,” we were told. However, the spokesperson added that the gravity of the situation in Cahersiveen had required special, restrictive measures.
“Where a public health issue arises, Public Health officials may advise that residents stay in their centre and restrict movement for a time, while they monitor the situation,” he said. “We have endeavoured to keep residents informed of developments – their health and welfare, and that of Centre staff and the wider community, is our key priority.”
The Department's spokesperson offered the reassurance that “centre management will put in place alternative arrangements to ensure that any items residents require can be ordered and delivered to the centre.”
Speaking to Hot Press, however, Lucky Khambule of Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), said that "locking up" residents in an infected centre while promising to order items for them will do little to solve the problem.
“MASI’s demand is simple,” Lucky Khambule told Hot Press. “Close the centre and move people into a safe place where they can feel free.
“Their solution to deal with this virus was to lock people inside their rooms. There is a big gate, and they have locked that gate, so that people can’t go past that gate. Is this to protect them or to punish them?”
SECRECY BREEDS DIVISION
The background to the crisis began in March, when approximately 105 migrants from various, undisclosed locations were moved to Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen. It is believed that some of those residents may have come from a hotel in Dublin, where an outbreak of coronavirus was confirmed on March 8.
“We cannot comment on, or confirm, the specific locations to which applicants are relocated for their privacy,” a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said.
Castigating what he described as the Department’s “secrecy” about the spread of coronavirus in the centre, Lucky Khambule said that the Department’s actions have "angered lovely locals in Cahersiveen.”
Unwittingly or otherwise, hostility has been stirred up against asylum seekers.
"They should tell people where the virus came from,” Lucky Khambule insisted. “They tested a mother and her boy. Her boy tested positive, and she tested negative. Where did the boy get the virus?”
One staff member at Skellig Star Hotel has been confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus,. However, the resident with whom Hot Press spoke claimed that there are other employees who are ill.
“Staff members are afraid too, and they are resigning,” the resident said.
“Testing of residents and staff has already been completed in Cahersiveen by HSE Public Health,” the Justice Department told Hot Press.
That may well be the case, but on Sunday, local residents of Cahersiveen organised a protest, urging the Government to move the inhabitants of Skellig Star Hotel elsewhere and to close down the site.
On Tuesday, Minister for Tourism and Sports, Brendan Griffin TD, a Kerry native, also sounded a note of alarm, calling for the prompt closure of the centre.
EXEMPTIONS FROM REGULATIONS
A source familiar with the details of the story told Hot Press that the International Protection Office (IPAS) had failed to inform the local HSE in Co Kerry of its intention to move migrants to the Cahersiveen centre in March, fearing that the health authority would advise against the decision.
In response to Hot Press's inquiry about this, a spokesperson for the HSE's Cork and Kerry affairs declined to comment and referred us to the Department of Justice.
In a statement issued to Hot Press, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice stated that “the relocation process was carried out in full consultation and agreement with the HSE’s National Social Inclusion Office.”
Local Sinn Féin TD, Pa Daly, previously told The Irish Examiner that he had secured a holiday home – with “self-catering” units – in Killarney for asylum seekers who were living in Skellig Star Hotel. According to Daly,. the Department of Justice had declined that offer, apparently on the basis that it would transgress against the Government’s 2km movement restrictions, as well as “Direct Provision rules with regard to food provision.”
The Department of Justice now claims, however, that its “accommodation procurement team” are “considering” the offer.
• The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act of 2020 which recently completed its passage through the Dáil and the Seanad, allows the Government to make exemptions from regulations for persons who perform essentials services, including but not limited to “statutory duties or other specified public or other services”.
• According to a list of essential service providers published by the Department of Taoiseach, accommodation, community and support services are viewed as vital by the State.