Asylum seekers say ‘social distancing is impossible to observe’ in direct provision

A photo of the self-isolation methods that asylum seekers are expected to take in direct provision centres.

A group representing asylum seekers in Ireland has attacked the government for its “discriminatory response” towards them in dealing with COVID-19. The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) said the authorities are not ensuring that asylum seekers in direct provision can practice social distancing. As a result, it said it “is concerned about the wellbeing of asylum seekers”.

The latest figures show that there are now 2,121 reported cases of the virus in Ireland. 

Cramped conditions

In a press release MASI highlighted that although the authorities had shared information on social distancing, the information is “useless”. This is because asylum seekers live in cramped conditions in direct provision centres. In some cases asylum seekers are still forced to congregate together in the canteen for their meals. 

Also, sharing a bedroom with up to seven other people is not unusual. MASI said this is “despite [the authorities] knowing that the asylum seeker who tested positive for Covid19 shared a bedroom with 2 other men”. 

It also asserted that the authorities have “refused to ensure” the appropriate measures are available to asylum seekers. Given this, MASI related that it “is concerned about the wellbeing of asylum seekers in Direct Provision”. 

And it went further, declaring:

Asylum seekers are deliberately placed in a situation where such social distancing is impossible to observe.

Solutions

MASI has called on the government “to take appropriate steps to protect asylum seekers”. It revealed that the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) was able to acquire self-contained units for homeless people to self-isolate. According to MASI when it called for the same steps to be taken for asylum seekers in direct provision the government “rejected” its suggestion. 

It also pointed out that asylum seekers are excluded from the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. This is despite the fact that some asylum seekers have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. MASI argues that this “further entrenches the poverty asylum seekers are forced to endure”. What’s more, 

Some can barely afford to buy hand sanitisers.

The group added that the government’s current policies regarding direct provision “endanger all of us”.

Bulelani Mfaco, spokesperson for MASI, told The Beacon that the government and the managers of the direct provision centres “don’t care” about asylum seekers. And given this, they’re “not expecting any reaction” from them. Mfaco also said:

If there were empty rooms we’d have encouraged asylum seekers to occupy them but Direct Provision centres by design were already overcrowded

Members of MASI previously told a government committee of the toll living in direct provision has taken on their health. In some cases children living in direct provision centres have shown signs of depression and suicidal thoughts.

“Serious concerns”

A number of TDs have also attacked the government for its response to the crisis when it comes to direct provision. Independent TD Catherine Connolly said she has “the most serious concerns about the conditions which exist in direct provision centres”. Green Party TD Roderic O’Gorman proclaimed that although the government has emphasised social distancing, 

very little attention has been paid to the near impossibility of social distancing in the context of direct provision centres.

And Paul Murphy of RISE highlighted that:

we need to urgently address the real health danger posed by crammed direct provision centres where self-isolation is not possible.

Featured image via MASI