- 05 Jun 20
In what amounts to another indictment of the direct provision system in Ireland, the Welcome Group set up in Milltown Malbay to help make asylum seekers feel at home has written to the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan demanding the closure of the centre.
Members of the local community in Milltown Malbay, a small town in Co Clare, are calling for the closure of the area's emergency Direct Provision centre, citing human rights violations.
The Central Hotel, the current home to 12 male migrants, is a mess of substandard accommodation and building deficiencies.
Conditions at the Milltown Malbay centre are dismal – from rodents marauding inside residents' rooms through low-quality meals to severe maintenance issues.
A video, seen by Hot Press, filmed by a former resident, depicts a doorless bathroom in the centre.
"If I want to take a shower or go to the bathroom, I cannot do it,” the resident states in the video. “There is not a door in here. It's not covered.”
In another video, water drips from the ceiling of a room. The leak is dangerously close to the light. "This is my room, okay? There is water as well from here," the room's occupant says, showing the roof over a bunk bed.
The camera then shows power tools that were given to the resident to fix the leak on his own.
It is also believed that migrants are forced to follow a separate set of guidelines that were devised by the manager of the Milltown Malbay centre during the coronavirus crisis. The guidelines restrict their freedom of movement and autonomy.
Distraught at the living conditions in the centre, locals have now penned an open letter (see link to full text at the bottom of this article) to the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, exhorting him to close down the centre.
It is quite clear from the text of the letter that this is not a cynical exercise by racists, pretending to oppose the centre on humanitarian grounds when the real objective is to rid the town of unwanted outsiders. On the contrary, the sincerity in the letter and the support it expresses for the asylum seekers come across as being completely genuine.
It was May 2019 when the Central Hotel in Milltown Malbay was transformed into a makeshift Direct Provision Centre, with the people of the town uniformly welcoming the new residents. Locals set up a welcome group, whose role it was to make the new members of the community feel at home. Living alongside the migrants, however, has been an eye-opening experience for those living in Milltown Malbay.
Áine Rynne, the spokesperson of Milltown Malbay Welcome Group, told Hot Press that it has been harrowing to see what the asylum seekers at the centre have been put through.
"You can probably tell from my voice that I am very upset," she said. "Our community embraced these men, but I feel like our work has been undermined by what happened in the centre. It's a dreadful situation. The food they are providing for these men is absolutely appalling. That's a basic human right to have your proper three meals."
The local community in Milltown Malbay are under the impression that the Department of Justice and the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) – an office within the Department – are not adequately monitoring how this accommodation centre, among others, is run. The effect is that residents in direct provision are at the mercy of private firms, some of whom receive up to €50 million a year from the State.
Meanwhile, in the absence of proper State support, residents are forced to rely on charity to survive.
The allegedly poor quality of the food notwithstanding, Áine Rynne confirmed that local volunteers – who had been providing food for residents – were asked to stop bringing meals into the centre. Although cooking is allowed at the Central Hotel, asylum seekers do not have enough money to purchase ingredients regularly. They tend to subsist on fruit.
We are waiting for the Department of Justice to confirm the exact number of emergency Direct Provision Centres across the State. Several hotels have informed the Department of their plans to return to the tourism sector, which will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of makeshift refugee accommodations. Those centres are clearly unsuitable for long-term stays – and yet they are being used. You have to ask: why?
AFRAID TO SPEAK
In response to the demands from locals, the Department of Justice promised to arrange a virtual Zoom clinic with residents, to discuss the issues at the centre. The meeting took place in the local community centre.
“Residents were loath to freely discuss their problems,” Áine Rynne informed Hot Press. Some of the residents have yet to master the English language, making communication even more difficult. But there is also a prevailing fear that if complainants are identified, it will work against their asylum applications.
"Private owners are making huge profits from the Direct Provision system, and they have been given free rein and authority over asylum seekers," Áine Rynne told Hot Press. "We strongly criticise Minister Charlie Flanagan and Mark Wilson from IPAS for not taking our concerns about their proposal for this zoom clinic on board. If they will not listen to our group, who have no agenda other than the well-being of the men, who will they listen to?"
Residents have also told locals privately that they fear speaking to Hot Press would jeopardise their precarious position as asylum seekers. The last thing they want is to end up being deported.
Hot Press is committed, to the greatest extent possible, and with all necessary respect and confidentiality, to accurately represent members of marginalised groups when reporting on their lives. We have reached out to several people and remain optimistic that we will be able to speak to a resident at the Central Hotel for an update on this article.
In recent weeks in light of the uprising against racism in the US, motivated by the horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Irish activists and academics have urged people to focus their outrage on campaigning against Direct Provision. It is seen by activists in the sphere as a major domestic racism issue.
Speaking on the floor of the Dáil on Thursday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (pictured) agreed that Direct Provision centres 'often' had 'substandard conditions’.
"Does [Direct Provision] lead to racism? I hope it doesn't," the Taoiseach said, encouraging support for asylum seekers from local communities.
Earlier this week, the condemnation of violent racism in the US, by the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, attracted predictably sharp criticism on Twitter.
"Racism is an abhorrent evil with no place in a democratic society,” Charlie Flanagan tweeted. “Today I was proud to stand with TDs in solidarity with victims of racism. [Minister] Denis Stanton and I work to promote anti-racism strategies. All of us must play a part to ensure that our society cherishes all people equally.”
The responses were frequently less than kind. "If only you were Minister for Justice and you had the power to abolish our racist warehouses of refugees in Direct Provision," one social media user said. It was a fair point.
"Any chance of a straightforward response then about Miltown Malbay emergency centre where asylum-seeking men are in terrible conditions? So far nothing despite all the times we called you to act," another reply read.
Green Party Deputy Patrick Costello told the Minister that we need to examine Irish racism, as embodied in the Direct Provision system and the treatment of Travellers, instead of "patting ourselves in the back saying at least we’re not as bad as America.”
Meanwhile, Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats asked him how many substandard accommodations of the kind the Taoiseach had referred to existed across the State. And she asked if Miltown Malbay was one. Bríd Smith also questioned him about the Co. Clare direct provision centre.
The Minister said he wasn't happy with "the current regime." He added that he was waiting on results of the inspection carried out in Miltown Malbay. "I'm not going to rush to any judgment about any DP accommodation," he said.
Everyone else already has. Certainly, on the basis of the video material we've seen, the living conditions are not just sub-standard: they are downright disgraceful.
• Pictured: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke in the Dáil of sub-standard conditions in direct provision centres.