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International Migrants' Day

Doras, the human rights organisation, this month published the findings of its report into Mount Trenchard Direct Provision Centre which likened conditions in the centre as like an open prison and compared it to “Guantanamo Bay” due to its isolated location and lack of amenities. 

The report, based on interviews with 15 respondents aged between 23 and 56 and having lived in Direct Provision for between 1 and 10 years, categorized the findings from these interviews into four themes – the safety and wellbeing of residents; isolated location; physical living conditions; and operational and staff issues.  Citing the McMahon Report, which found that residents in Direct Provision were five times more likely to experience mental health difficulties than the general population, the report found that this was particularly the case with Mount Trenchard given its location.  Residents in the centre are less likely to be eligible for employment and those that are eligible face barriers accessing employment and training due to the lack of transportation.  The “bleak and confined space” in Mount Trenchard was also given as a contributing factor to depression among residents.  Concerns about safety were expressed not only by residents but by two former outreach services to the centre.  A lack of appropriate security personnel, room sharing (there can be up to eight beds in one room) and a lack of appropriate responses from staff to incidences, including incidences of self-harm, were reported as being key concerns in respect of the safety of residences. 

Inability to access support services, such as healthcare, legal advice and training supports, only serves to exacerbate the difficulties of residents in this centre.  In addition, some staff behaviours were described as intimidating and, in general, “ill-equipped to solve internal problems or emergency situations”.    

The worst thing is, almost all of the issues outlined in the Report were highlighted previously in the McMahon process in 2014 and 2015, however the recommendations of that report (McMahon) are yet to be fully implemented. 

The Doras Report comes in the same week as the Royal College of Surgeons’ Faculty of Paediatrics published their Report on Children in Direct Provision, which highlighted the experiences of some of the 1,778 children in Direct Provision (as of October 2018).  Among these issues were again, mental health concerns, with this Report highlighting the fact that migrants suffer ten times the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 2.7 times the rate of psychosis, than the general population.  The Report also echoed the concerns of other professional bodies about the welfare of children living in Direct Provision, specifically the risks of institutionalization; living conditions; inadequate supports; lack of transport; strict meal times; lack of access to education; sexual harassment of women; and sharing rooms with unknown men.  Children living in 43 centres across Ireland were found to be living in extreme deprivation with the majority (92%) needed to provide additional food to supplement the meals provided in the centres. 

The recommendations in this Report went beyond the need for reform and called for the system of Direct Provision to be abolished.  It recommended:

  • that families have access to own-door, self-catering accommodation;   
  • an increased allowance for clothing and footwear, and the provision of free baby-related items;
  • increased access to transport;
  • improved access to health supports, particularly psychotherapy and psychological supports;
  • the availability of specific funding for additional vaccinations;
  • enhancements to sexual and reproductive healthcare supports;
  • specific training for service providers on cultural awareness; and
  • educational supports.

Also that same week, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality published its Report on Direct Provision and the International Protection Application Process  following consultation with stakeholders during the year.  The key issues identified in this Report, mirroring those in the previous two Reports discussed in this article, included accommodation issues; inadequate supports within the Direct Provision system; right to work issues; children in Direct Provision; integration; and issues with the application process.  Terms such as “instutionalised”, “segregates”, and “discourages integration” feature in the discussion of accommodation issues.  While the Report acknowledges that there have been improvements made in the system since the publication of the McMahon Report, it finds that the quality of accommodation remains  substandard and unfit for purpose.  The Report cites the Ombudsman’s commentary from 2018 that the ability to cook their own meals remained an important issue for residents.  The report also included comments from the Irish Refugee Council to the effect that “private providers who are working on a for-profit basis do not have the expertise in housing or social care to adequately and effectively manage [Direct Provision] centres”.  The outsourcing of Direct Provision to private operators is another example of how Government are privatising social supports, and creating industries from the misery of others.

Included in the Committee’s Conclusions and Recommendations, which are well worth a read in their entirety, are:

  • the inclusion of an inspectorate for Direct Provision centres;
  • the provision of own-door accommodation and self-catering facilities;
  • a move away from commercial operators and towards Approved Housing Bodies who would be supplemented and supported to provide the accommodation and wraparound services required;
  • the establishment of a Refugee Advisory Board;
  • the reduction of the waiting period for accessing the labour market from nine months;
  • having vulnerability assessments undertaken by qualified professionals;
  • looking at alternative models to Direct Provision in Ireland.

Based on the recommendations on these three Reports alone there is a clear, demonstrated, need to overhaul the system of Direct Provision and to provide asylum seekers with a standard of living that affords dignity, safety, and independence.  These Reports also mirror one of the Concerns and Recommendations contained in the Concluding Observations of the United Nations Committee on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination (CERD), published on the 12th December 2019, which called for the development of a new reception model and the phasing out of Direction Provision. 

National Government, through developing, funding and implementing new policies on Direct Provision have a significant role to play, but so too does local Government. 

Last week also saw a report of a local initiative undertaken by Clare Public Participation Network in Milltown Malbay.  Starting with a coffee morning, they took the opportunity to support 35 new residents to connect to their new community from the very beginning.  Since that first coffee morning, relationships have been built through English and music classes, running and swimming events, and a church fundraiser.  These are seemingly small acts, but have a huge impact on both the new residents and the wider community.