- 03 May 20
Asylum seekers housed in direct provision centres are among the most vulnerable people in Ireland. Now, their situation has become even more difficult with the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic – with poor facilities and a lack of space making them highly vulnerable to becoming infected.
Chains have now been removed from gates of a Direct Provision Centre in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, where there has been a major outbreak of coronavirus.
Yet the residents inside say that they remain confined indoors.
Yesterday evening, the Department of Justice issued a statement claiming that residents living in Skellig Star Hotel, in the village of Cahersiveen, are free to leave the centre. However, residents say that in practice this is not the case.
“We understand that an isolation situation is difficult,” the Department of Justice statement read, “but we need to clarify that no one is being prevented from leaving the centre in Cahersiveen.
“The HSE have asked all residents in the hotel to isolate, as would be the case for any other person in the country under the HSE guidelines.”
Clearly the situation is a fraught one, as the apparent contradiction between those two elements in the Department’s statement underlines. It is as if they are saying to residents: “You can leave, but because off the outbreak of Covid-19 you can’t.”
Speaking to Hot Press, one resident, who requested anonymity, said that the current atmosphere at their centre is very dark.
He acknowledges that, on Saturday morning, staff at the Skellig Star Hotel removed the chains from the gates of the Cahersiveen centre, following the release of the Department’s public statement. However, that is not to say that they are free to go.
“We have residents that tried to go for a walk outside the compound,” Hot Press was told, “and they were turned back by the security guards at the reception. They are desperate to keep us here despite the fact that it’s absolutely unhealthy to continue to stay inside an infected building. It’s only a matter of time before we get infected.”
The source said that four more residents had started to display symptoms of coronavirus. They are currently self-isolating in their rooms. The effect, however, is to create an atmosphere of acute paranoia among the asylum seekers – and within the local community.
“When we were allowed outside,” a resident told us this week “local shopkeepers would often ask us to leave, as the Cahersiveen community is acutely aware of the prevalence of coronavirus in the centre.”
In a letter sent to the residents, which Hot Press has seen, the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) has exhorted asylum seekers to “remain in the centre until Public Health Officials advise otherwise.”
“…We have been assured that this is the correct thing to do while they work to safeguard everyone’s health,” the letter stated.
The letter, dated April 25, offers the reassurance that the HSE is following “all appropriate steps to deal with any outcomes arising from the testing earlier this week.”
On the face of it, there is nothing discriminatory in this: from the onset of the pandemic, no matter what their status, citizens who have been in close proximity to anyone who then tests positive are asked not to leave their homes and to self-isolate to the greatest extent possible.
However, a direct provision centre is anything but a normal environment. There are communal eating and recreation areas. The spaces that people have to sleep in are small. Rooms are shared. In many respects, self-isolation is not a meaningful option.
As such, an outbreak in a direct provision centre requires a different level of swift and decisive intervention.
“The aim should be to identify, as far as possible, those who are free of the virus and then to get them clear of the risk of infection,” one doctor told Hot Press. “That isn’t entirely straightforward, in that there is a time-lag between when the test is done and when the results are available. But whatever course of action you are following, it should be explained very clearly to the residents, so that they understand what is happening and where they stand. You need the residents to buy into it.”
Earlier this week, the Department confirmed to Hot Press, that the outbreak of coronavirus at Skellig Star Hotel, had prompted them to impose special, restrictive measures on residents.
The spokesperson for the Department also 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.”
Over 20 residents at Skellig Star Hotel, including a seven-year-old boy, had tested positive for coronavirus in recent weeks.
Some of the migrants who were infected have now been moved to self-isolation facilities in Co Cork. However, remaining residents, living in what is a crowded centre, still want the site to be closed down, as the number of refugees with symptoms continues to grow.
Residents argue that the centre is too small and the number of residents – nearly 80 people – too high to achieve social-distancing objectives.
A particular concern expressed to Hot Press is that a number of the residents have existing health conditions and are particularly susceptible to infection.
“There are many vulnerable people here. There are people with cardiovascular problems, and there are diabetic patients. We have pregnant women here,” a resident had previously told Hot Press.
A letter, signed by the residents, argued that the centre needs to be completely “fumigated."
“Our demands are simple and very clear to the authority, move us to an independent living accommodation centre, and we can isolate very well,” the letter read. “This place is infected, and it’s inhabitable for a human being in this pandemic period, the emergency as we experience now requires urgent and effective measures…
“We, asylum seekers, are no lesser beings, and we don't deserve to be given inhumane treatment. Move us out.”
As previously reported by Hot Press, local Sinn Féin TD, Pa Daly, told The Irish Examiner that he had secured a holiday home – with “self-catering” units – in Killarney for asylum seekers who were living in the controversial Cahersiveen centre. So far that offer has not been taken up by the Department.