In 2019 we look back in disgust and horror on the days of Magdalene laundries and industrial schools. We ask ourselves how could such a thing be accepted, seemingly without protest, by much of the population. Women and children were placed in what was effectively an Irish gulag system.
There they suffered torment and pain at the hands of those who were duty-bound to protect them. And always we ask ourselves, how could this have happened? But every generation has its moral abyss into which the most vile actions are placed out of sight and out of mind. Ours will be the for-profit carceral system known as direct provision.
Some are already asking how can we continue to let this system flourish at the expense of human lives. But not enough are asking that question. Not enough people are willing to call on the government to treat vulnerable asylum seekers with dignity and respect. Not enough are willing to demand that the government stop enriching the private companies who run direct provision centres.
These same companies make millions of Euros while those forced to live in direct provision have to live off €38.80 per week. Asylum seekers are forced to live in cramped conditions. Food is often inadequate and medical assistance lacking. While they await the outcome of their asylum applications, many are forced to live for years in limbo. Barred from working and with limited educational opportunities open to them, many begin to lose hope.
Children, some of whom were born in direct provision, have also displayed similar hopelessness in the face of an unknown fate. During an Oireachtas committee meeting about direct provision, a member of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) related the extent to which the system has affected the mental health of her son. She told the committee members that “he has beens showing signs of depression”. And, horrifically, she revealed that he has said to her that “Sometimes when I feel sad I feel like killing myself”. Her son is nine years old.
This is not unusual for those forced to live in direct provision. Also not unusual is having their stories dismissed out of hand by the authorities. This harks back to the days of the Magdalene laundries and industrial schools. Survivors of both were often disbelieved when they told their stories of what really happened there. Today we have government agencies whose default position appears to be to disbelieve the stories of those applying for asylum.
Over the weekend MASI held its inaugural national conference. There residents of direct provision gathered to discuss the problems they have to deal with on a daily basis. And at this conference MASI called for the complete abolition of direct provision.
One speaker, Mavis Ramazani, told attendees how young people’s lives are being wasted in direct provision. She argued that they
are talented but they are going nowhere slowly. The reality is their lives are being slowly destroyed. The system is destroying lives; it’s inhumane.
Direct provision is a stain on the soul of the country. A moral reckoning awaits us as long as the system is allowed to continue its exploitation of innocent people. Speaking at the MASI conference, sociologist Evgeny Shtorn insisted that “Knowledge is the responsibility and obligation of citizens”, especially when it comes to direct provision.
So for us to stand by and do nothing will ensure that the disgust and contempt of future generations awaits us. And we’ll deserve nothing less.
Featured image via Wikipedia – Braca Karic