Asylum seeker's court victory should shame the Irish people

With our history of emigration and experience of racism abroad, you would think that the Irish psyche would be attuned to the vulnerability and needs of asylum-seekers, so says Colette Sheridan in her weekly column.
Asylum seeker's court victory should shame the Irish people
"AN ISSUE OF GROWING CONCERN": Emily Logan attacked Ireland's direct provision system when she was Ombudsman for Children.

CRUEL and inhumane, Ireland’s discrimination against asylum-seekers who come here for better lives may be on the way out.

And it’s all thanks to a Burmese man who last week won his Supreme Court appeal over the legal ban preventing him from working.

The court unanimously found in favour of the man, but adjourned the matter for six months to allow the legislature to consider how to address the situation.

The man had argued that while living in direct provision on an allowance of €19.10 a week, he suffered depression and “almost complete loss of autonomy”.

Being allowed to work was crucial to his development, personal dignity and “sense of self-worth”.

Imagine insulting people with such a measly allowance that wouldn’t pay for a week’s worth of nappies for a baby? Or enough groceries to barely last a weekend?

Not that buying groceries is an option for asylum seekers who, stuck in direct provision centres, aren’t even allowed to cook their own food. Ireland of the welcomes, how are you.

With our history of emigration and experience of racism abroad, you would think that the Irish psyche would be attuned to the vulnerability and needs of asylum-seekers who come here looking for better, safer, more economically feasible lives.

Instead, we’ve been consigning asylum-seekers to over-crowded accommodation centres. There is no consideration of privacy or allowing for proper family life.

Children are unable to bring their friends home to play, a basic right that every child should have. Instead of learning through play, they absorb the in-built racism directed at them.

They are made to feel ‘other’, not the same as the other kids they come across in school.

In 2014, the outgoing Ombudsman for children, Emily Logan, said: “The treatment of children living in direct provision centres for asylum-seekers is an issue of growing concern which the state urgently needs to address. Children should not grow up in direct provision.”

While asylum-seeker children have access to primary and secondary education, they are not entitled to free third level education. Only a tiny number have had access to universities and colleges.

Consider that more than one third of the asylum-seekers in direct provision are children and teenagers. They have no decent future ahead of them. Not being able to access third level education condemns them to discrimination and poverty.

The direct provision system was supposed to provide shelter for six months as an emergency measure. Seventeen years on, it has become a permanent feature of the asylum process in Ireland and despite many research reports showing its institutionally racist and dysfunctional nature, it has been ignored by governments.

In 2013, a confidential government briefing document said: “Direct provision is not ideal, but saves money.”

Yet the state shells out outrageous sums of money to keep the direct provision centres going.

There are currently 35 direct provision accommodation centres in Ireland. The state contracts the business of running the centres to private companies. All except seven of these centres are owned and run by private companies.

Many of the private companies providing food and shelter are big firms involved in the property, hospitality or catering businesses. Running the centres is just another way of making plenty of money for these companies.

For example, Mosney Holidays has been paid more than €100 million by the state.

The figures are obscene. These huge public funds could be used to provide housing and other social services for asylum-seekers.

It has to be pointed out that asylum-seekers coming to Ireland and other European countries do so out of necessity and not choice. They have fled their own countries because of war, conflicts, environmental disasters and chronic poverty leading to starvation.

With our history of the Famine in 1845, which depleted nearly half the country, through death and emigration, you would think we would be up in arms over the treatment of asylum-seekers. Instead, vulnerable families are shoved into isolated direct provision centres and are largely forgotten.

As of 2016, there were almost 5,000 people in direct provision. Some 18% of them are in that system for more than seven years. The average length of stay is more than three years.

The consequences should be an alarm call for society. Mental health issues among asylum-seekers in direct provision are up to five times higher than in the wider community.

A study carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons found the length of the asylum process was closely associated with an increase in psychiatric illnesses.

In 2014, residents in a number of direct provision centres held protests over living conditions and the length of waiting times for their refugee applications to be processed.

Let’s hope asylum-seekers are facilitated to start working here. It’s a basic human right in any modern democratic society.

More in this section

Sponsored Content