Women in Direct Provision launch ‘My Rights, My Privacy’ campaign

Women living in Direct Provision have launched a campaign called My Rights, My Privacy, Colette Sheridan reports
Women in Direct Provision launch ‘My Rights, My Privacy’ campaign

The government have pledged to end Direct Provision by 2025.Picture; Larry Cummins

IMAGINE having to leave your country and being beholden to the host country you turn up in, often after an arduous journey, only to find that you’re treated like a second-class citizen.

That’s the reality of people’s lives in Direct Provision in Ireland.

It has been said before, but it’s worth repeating - in years to come, the harsh and often inhumane system of accommodating refugees and asylum seekers will be seen as a shameful human rights abuse.

Ireland of the welcomes? Give us a break.

Maybe it is that for Caucasian Ukrainian refugees from a country that is not on another continent. They’re not ‘othered’ to the extent that Africans are.

You could say that Direct Provision is a racist system, keeping beleaguered people under the thumb of an uncaring indifferent State.

While the government has made a promise to end Direct Provision by 2025, the lived experience of men, women and children is an indictment of this system which has elements of virtual imprisonment.

A group of women living in Direct Provision across Ireland has launched the My Rights, My Privacy Campaign. It includes a petition calling for their human rights to be respected.

The campaign is supported by AkiDwA (the Swahili name for ‘sisterhood’) and Action Aid Ireland with funding from the St Stephen’s Green Trust.

There are approximately 7,000 people remaining in the system. Their stories have in common lives lived without respect from the people in charge of them. But they’re angry and are asking the Irish government to request that Direct Provision management treat the refugees in such a way that their dignity is not compromised. It shouldn’t be a big ask.

The campaign has collated the experiences of women suffering in Direct Provision with identifying information removed and names changed.

Stella was living in a Direct Provision centre in the east of Ireland. She had to share a room with two other people and share a bathroom with six people.

Stella was 12 weeks pregnant and found the living situation incredibly difficult. She needed to use the bathroom a lot, but it was often occupied. This meant she had to hold herself in. She requested some privacy but this was refused.

It wasn’t until Stella had a miscarriage (which she attributed to the lack of bathroom access) and returned to the centre from hospital that she was given her own room. But that didn’t last long. Very soon after losing the baby, she was back sharing a room and a bathroom with more people.

Another woman, Sharon, in a Direct Provision centre in the midlands, frequently received letters that had been opened by the time they were given to her. On one such occasion, she received a letter from a local hospital about an appointment. The enveloped was clearly marked ‘private and confidential’ but it had been opened.

When Sharon asked why her private post had been intercepted, she was told they didn’t know why.

That’s the stuff of old school prison life, surely?

A woman who went under the name of Sadie living in a Direct Provision centre in the south of Ireland, found that staff would knock on her door and, without waiting for a response, would enter her room. She lived there with her family.

On one occasion, Sadie was taking a shower and, on hearing movement outside, she realised the management had entered her room. She screamed, ‘I am in the bathroom’, over and over until they left. Sadie didn’t receive any apology and changed her shower time to avoid it happening again. She has since moved to another centre.

Then there’s Audrey, who lives in Direct Provision in the midlands where there is a strict registry of who is in the centre. Occupants have to inform management when they’re leaving and entering the centre.

The registry is used by management to flag the Direct Provision system when a person hasn’t been in the centre for four days. Management can then give away the person’s bed.

Audrey is at risk of losing her bed when she wants to visit a friend or work somewhere that isn’t within easy distance.

One of the women taking part in the project said: “Freedom of movement is a universal human right. When an adult who is not supposed to be in prison and is made to sign in and out, limiting that freedom, that is taking away a basic right. We can do better.”

Given that these women have often experienced abuse before arriving in Ireland, the least we can do is offer them a safe and welcoming sanctuary. Instead they are infantilised with no regard for their dignity and rights.

We can certainly do better, and hope the government will take note of the campaign.

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