- 19 Jul 20
The Department of Justice has introduced new measures which will force asylum seekers to look for new accommodation if they have to stay away from the direct provision centre, in which they are housed, for more than two nights…
The Department of Justice has introduced new mandatory quarantine measures for asylum seekers, aimed at preventing fresh outbreaks of coronavirus in Direct Provision.
However, the new measures have been met with criticism from Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), who point to the hypocrisy of imposing these requirements on asylum seekers, while tourists from Covid-19 hotspots are allowed to enter the country without any form of quarantine being imposed.
In a letter distributed in Direct Provision Centres across the State on Thursday, International Protections Accommodation Services (IPAS) – which is part of the Department of Justice –informed asylum seekers of a new policy covering overnight absence from their centres.
The introduction of the new rules for asylum seekers is part of the Government’s broader easing of overall Covid-19 restrictions. However the view taken by MASI is that the paternalistic tone of the new measures contradicts the spirit of the easing of restrictions. IPAS has said that it has adopted the new measures to “ensure the safety of all residents.”
The measures are primarily concerned with overnight stays outside Direct Provision Centres, during the coronavirus crisis.
“If you intend to leave the centre for one night or more you should inform your centre manager in writing and in advance,” the IPAS letter says. “To ensure there is no dispute upon return, Centre managers will also be required to record your request and acknowledge same in writing before you leave.”
Residents are not allowed to stay outside their ‘allocated centres’ for more than two ‘consecutive days’, the letter states.
Asylum seekers will also be required to provide centre managers with contact details, as well as information about their whereabouts, if they plan to spend a night elsewhere.
However, there is no doubt that the new measures involve additional, seriously restrictive elements. In particular, from now on, asylum seekers who fail to return to their centres on time, without notifying their managers of the delay, “will not be permitted to return to the centre and will have to formally apply to IPAS to be re-accommodated.”
How this is likely to work in practice remains to be seen. Certainly, the history of misunderstandings and bad practice in the centres suggests that it is a recipe for problems and conflicts, which will involve further hardships for residents in direct provision centres.
Those who fall foul of the new measures, the IPAS letter says, will also be required to spend a fortnight ‘quarantine period’ in an allocated ‘isolation location’.
This new condition has prompted considerable anxiety among asylum seekers, who argue that the new IPAS measures do not take into account what are often perfectly legitimate emergencies, which might prevent individuals from notifying centre managers of a delayed return to the relevant centre.
Fr example, last week, one asylum seeker living in Donegal centre, who had travelled to Dublin to purchase diabetes medication was not permitted back to the centre and was instead sent to Travelodge Hotel for mandatory isolation. The individual had missed a bus and returned later than expected.
Bulelani Mfaco, spokesperson for the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), pointed out to Hot Press that the State has introduced the stringent 'mandatory quarantine' for residents of Direct Provision while still welcoming tourists from countries that are among the worst hit by the pandemic.
“People can land at Dublin Airport from countries with spikes in Covid-19 cases and not be subjected to mandatory quarantine,” he said.
Mfaco argued that, in effect, the State has turned into a disciplining parent, treating asylum seekers like children by requiring them to report their whereabouts to centre managers.
“Such infantilising treatment of asylum seekers has been part of the Direct Provision system for the past 20 years and must stop,” he said.
Mfaco specifically noted that American tourists are arriving from a place that "is struggling to contain Covid-19" – and yet the State does not impose a mandatory quarantine on them.
In recent days, the State has been under fire for not enforcing self-isolation rules for people who have flown into Ireland from the US.
The pandemic is still raging unabated in most parts of the United States. As the New York Times recently pointed out, although Ireland is welcoming tourists from across the globe, most of the complaints that have been made by individuals and businesses in Ireland relate to Americans.
A group of American tourists arriving at Dublin Airport had told Newstalk this week that they had no plans to quarantine, inevitably attracting withering criticism on social media.
Bulelani Mfaco believes that there is an element of racism implicit in the Government’s failure to enforce self-isolation rules for tourists, while displacing asylum seekers – who for one reason or another won’t be able to inform centre managers of delayed returns.
“This is pure racism and deprivation of personal liberty for people who are deliberately placed on the margins of Irish society by the Irish State,” Mfaco told Hot Press. “If the government is committed to ending Direct Provision, they can start by doing away with their racist conduct of thinking they can do as they please with asylum seekers.”
Another asylum seeker, who wished to remain anonymous, told Hot Press that similar isolation measures do not apply to staff and managers of Direct Provision centres, who freely move in and out of their places of work.
"There is no policy like that for staff,” Hot Press was told. “I live here, and I have seen it. They go back home daily, mix with different people and then come back to the centre. Roderic O'Gorman must start reforming the system by dissolving IPAS, which continues to mistreat us."
This week, the new Minister for Equality and Integration, Roderic O’Gorman TD, said that he is aiming to take ‘meanness’ out of the Direct Provision system.
The plan is that Minister O’Gorman’s Department will be in charge of accommodating asylum seekers from now on, once his new department has been formally established. However, worryingly, that may take some time yet.
The new Minister himself continues to be the subject of a homophobic, cyber-harassment campaign on Twitter and elsewhere.