In light of the global anti-racism movement taking centre stage in recent months, the Irish establishment has been forced to answer difficult questions as to how people of colour and ethnic minorities are treated in Ireland. The continued usage of Direct Provision (DP) centres to house asylum seekers has received increased attention, with former caretaker Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitting that conditions in the centres are “substandard”. DP residents in county Kerry have taken the absolute last resort decision by initiating a hunger strike on July 28th, after receiving no response for five months to their complaints about the shocking conditions in the Skellig Star Hotel Direct Provision centre. With approximately 6,000 people living in DP including 1,500 children, it’s worth looking at the asylum seeking system in Ireland and the effect it has on the often vulnerable people that are put through it.
The asylum seeking process begins when an asylum seeker or asylum-seeking families arrive in Ireland and declare themselves as refugees; they will then be interviewed, provided with Temporary Residence Cards and then brought to Balseskin Reception Centre where they will stay for around 3 to 4 weeks for the purpose of screening. Asylum seekers arriving in Ireland will often deal with loneliness, a language barrier, problems with access and other issues surrounding migration; but many will also be dealing with significant trauma like being a victim of sexual or domestic violence, family bereavement, imprisonment and torture, addiction etc. 2000-3000 asylum seekers pass through the reception centre each year and in 2016 there were 649 social work referrals – despite this, the centre is under significant strain with just two psychologists, two visiting GPs and one social worker. In recent years some asylum seekers have completely bypassed this process due to the strain, missing out on the chance to be referred to the services they need to address major health concerns – such as PTSD which occurs at higher rates in asylum seekers.
After asylum seekers pass through the reception centre they are dispersed to Direct Provision centres located all around the country. There are 38 DP centres in Ireland; 31 of these are for-profit and privately owned and operated, of the remaining state run centres only 3 were purpose built. There are massive profits to be made in DP, between 2002 and 2018 the Dep. Of Justice doled out €136m to Mosney Holidays plc alone to run one DP centre in county Meath. 72m a year of taxpayer money goes to line the pockets of DP centre owners. With the amount of money being funnelled into these centres the obvious conclusion would be that these vulnerable members of the community are being treated with the highest level of care and have their needs met – this is of course not the case.
Most people have heard the stories about the conditions within DP centres; families are typically expected to share a room while single asylum seekers may share a room with up to eight people, most centres do not have cooking facilities for residents and food served is reported to be culturally and nutritionally inadequate, buildings are often not suitable for long term residency with no recreational areas for children that may even be born and raised in the centre. Residents are expected to live on a measly €38.80 a week. Asylum seekers have likened their years in DP to being in prison and there has been very little change to the system since it was established two decades ago; but the substandard conditions and complete lack of independence given to asylum seekers in Ireland is in line with its business model. These are repurposed hotels and holiday camps now used to profit off of those seeking refuge. They are not there to help these newcomers get comfortable and adapt to their surroundings but rather merely keep them alive for the least amount of money they can. Everything wrong with direct provision can be traced back to the greed for profit; the cramped conditions, lack of cooking facilities and lack of information given to residents are all ensuring that the owners of DP centres are getting as much of that €72m as possible.
While residents in the Skellig Star Hotel Direct Provision Centre have been promised transfers to more suitable accommodation, the fact that they had to put their own wellbeing at risk for a mere transfer is appalling. Residents in the Skellig Star have been subject to harsh quarantines putting their health at risk and even food and water rationing.
Many people have still not heard the case of Sylva Tukula – a South African transgender woman who was placed in an all-male DP centre in Galway. Sylva spent her time in DP being referred to with male pronouns and living in similar conditions to those in Kerry; she tragically died in 2018 and despite her friends being assured that they would be informed of burial arrangements they were not. Sylva was buried in an unmarked grave in a HSE owned plot, with no mourners or friends present.
We need the immediate demands of allowing all asylum seekers their right to work; and if they cannot access work due to the rural locations of DP centres for example, they should be entitled to the same jobseekers and Covid-19 payments an Irish citizen would get. Workers, with their trade unions, should lead this fight – while the establishment may seek to divide us we know that there are enough resources to provide a home and a job to both migrants and the Irish working class. The struggle doesn’t end when an asylum seeker leaves direct provision, or indeed when direct provision ends; they are then just in the same situation as most people – navigating an exploitative housing and job market.
Furthermore; the systemic racism within the state, the displacement of people and the never-ending need for profit are so engrained into capitalism that they can only be resolved with the complete dismantling and reconstruction of the system. The exploitation of asylum seekers highlights the inherent greed in our current system but we can see the inequalities everywhere – only with working class solidarity and unity can we fight to end capitalism and its exploitations.
We call for an end to Direct Provision, and for a united struggle of refugees and the working class in Ireland to fight for jobs and homes for everyone. The trade unions should take a lead in this as the biggest organisation of the working class. While we want to fight against racism within this society, we want to join it with a fight for a socialist society as the only way to end all of the inequalities faced under capitalism.