The following document gives a short overview of the direct provision and deportation processes.
Cork Feminista supports the aims of ADI.
Asylum Seekers; Direct Provision, Deportation, Resistance.
According to the most recent figures available from the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) there are 4,822 asylum seekers currently in the direct provision system. If we add the small number who, for various reasons, live in private accommodation, the total number of asylum seekers in Ireland is less than 5,000. These are the most marginalised and persecuted group of people in the country.
Direct Provision. This system was introduced on 10th April 2000 as official government policy by Fianna Fail Justice Minister, John O’Donoghue. It was initially intended that people would remain in the system for a maximum of 6 months. Today the majority have been in the system for over 36 months, with many spending 5, 6, 7 and more years in direct provision.
Currently there are 37 direct provision centres scattered around the country.These include former hotels and guest houses, e.g. Ashbourne House, Glounthane, Co. Cork, Eyre Powell Hotel, Newbridge, Co Kildare, the Montague Hotel, Portlaoise and Ocean View, Tramore, Co. Waterford, former convents and boarding schools, e.g. Birchwood House, Waterford, Drishane Castle, Millstreet, Co. Cork and The Old Convent, Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, a caravan park in Athlone, a former holiday centre in Mosney, Co. Meath and 3 custom built centres Kinsale Road, Cork, Knockalisheen, Co. Clare and the reception centre in Balseskin, Finglas, Dublin.
The conditions vary in the centres but all are de facto prisons designed to break the spirits of the residents. For example in the Eglinton Hotel, Salthill, Galway, two single mothers with one child each have to share one room. They live and sleep in the room with no privacy. In the Glenvera Hostel, Cork City, which caters for single people, up to four people share one room. These people can be from different countries, speak different languages and have different religions.
All centres have security guards. They monitor the comings and goings of the residents and take the personal details of any visitors calling to the centre. The management of the majority of the centres do not allow residents to have visitors in their rooms. Visits are held in common/ recreation rooms. This has a negative impact especially on children who cannot bring their school friends home.
The quality of the food served in the hostels leaves much to be desired. Food is often past its use by date. It is also rationed, e.g. 4 slices of bread per person, people not being allowed to have both meat and fish at the same meal. In many cases the main staple is chips and rice, with no consideration given to native food.
Meals are served at set times, if a resident is late arriving in the dining room, then they have to do without. It is not permitted to cook in the rooms. Management carry out random room searches. Many of these occur when the residents are not at home. Items such as toasters, kettles, rice cookers and irons are confiscated. Anything that would make life a little bearable. The reason given for the confiscations, health and safety regulations.
Full families sleep and live in the same room. As children grow up, this results in early sexualisation. Children’s psychological health suffers from these conditions. They never see their parents cook a meal and they do not know what it is like to live in a regular home. They are seen in school as being different and find it difficult to have friends from the local community.
The full horrors of the direct provision system are recorded in full by two recent reports. “State Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion-The Case of Children in state accommodation for asylum seekers” published by the Irish Refugee Council, September 2012 and “Am Only Saying it Now- Experiences of Women Seeking Asylum in Ireland” published in March 2010 by Akidwa, the African women’s centre.
People in direct provision are not allowed to work, are denied access to 3rd level education and are given a social welfare payment of €19.10 per week. This payment began as £15 in 2000 and is the only social welfare payment not to have been increased since then. It is based on the payment given to people living in institutions in the past.
Deportation. The majority of people wishing to seek asylum in Ireland never get the opportunity. In 2011 for example almost 4,000 people were deported. However over 3,700 of these were people who were refused entry into the country. In other words these people were denied their right to even claim asylum. Those who succeed in entering formally seek asylum at the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC). If they receive a negative result, they appeal to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT). There is no further appeals mechanism at this stage. Ireland has the lowest rate of granting refugee status in the EU, just less than 2%.
During the early stages of the process, legal representation is provided by the state supported Refugee Legal Service. This service is free but the support provided is generally less than adequate. People do not have any choice in selecting the solicitor to represent them and often on the day their case is heard, a new barrister turns up who is totally unfamiliar with the details of the case.
After a refusal by the RAT the only way open to people is a High Court appeal. If that is not possible, then a 3 options letter is issued. The options are 1. Apply for leave to remain on humanitarian grounds, 2 voluntary return home or 3. Opt for deportation.
Subsidiary protection is given where a person does not qualify for refugee status but would be at risk if returned to their home country. The Irish government was recently criticised by the European Court of Justice for the manner in which it allows people to apply for subsidiary protection. This criticism was dismissed by Alan Shatter. In Ireland people can only apply for subsidiary protection after they have been given a deportation order, not earlier in the process as in other EU countries.
The majority of people opt to apply for leave to remain on humanitarian grounds. However this can present a problem for many. People need to put forward evidence that they have “integrated” into Irish society and that if they are granted leave to remain, that they will be a benefit to the country. To prove integration, letters of support are needed from Irish/ European people. Because of the nature of direct provision, many asylum seekers do not know many people in the wider society. Therefore they find it very difficult to get reference letters. As with the asylum process, applications for humanitarian leave to remain, generally ends in rejection. At this stage the dreaded deportation order is issued.
Once a deportation order is issued, the person’s file is handed over to the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB). This is the organisation that carries out the deportations. People are now obliged to report to the GNIB on a regular basis. In some GNIB offices the reporting routine is regular; in others it is irregular, which means that at times people can be asked to report more than once in the same week. Children with deportation orders are not excused from reporting, which means that school attendance is interrupted. Even when children are sick, their presence is still required by the GNIB. A woman whose two children had chickenpox, had to bring both of them to the Cork GNIB office from Millstreet in the middle of winter. No semblance of humanity is shown to people with deportation orders, even to children. If anybody fails to turn up on the appointed day, they can be subsequently arrested and held in prison for up to 8 weeks prior to being deported-a form of internment, as no crime has been committed.
Actual deportations are the ultimate cruelty inflicted on asylum seekers. People are awakened usually around 5am or 6am by GNIB officers in their room. Hostel management collude in the deportations and give the GNIB access to people’s room. They are told that they have between 20 to 30 minutes to pack some hand luggage; they are not allowed to shower or even clean their teeth. They are told that they are returning to Africa and to hurry up. Any resistance is met with violence. Last June 20th, coincidently World Refugee Day, a Nigerian woman in Portlaoise who questioned the legitimacy of her son’s deportation order was beaten and pepper sprayed and then taken half naked in handcuffs.
From the hostels, people are taken to a special holding area in Dublin airport. This building is separate from the main terminal buildings, away from the view of regular passengers. They are held there until the deportation flight arrives, generally late in the evening. Sometimes food is given, other times they are left without food. Sometimes they are told they will be fed if they have their own money to pay. On other occasions sandwiches are provided, often
containing ham which is not eaten by Muslims or the majority of African Christians. During their time in the airport, they are often mocked and racist comments made.
When the plane arrives, they board, with each adult accompanied by one GNIB officer. Again any resistance is met with violence. Testimony from people on the returned flight of 15th December, 2010, gives full details of what took place. One woman was sedated by a doctor on board in order to subdue her. Children were refused to use the toilet; instead they had to urinate into plastic bottles. On all deportation flights, people do not have privacy even when using the toilet, they cannot close the toilet door and a GNIB officer stands watching them.
This is the reality for many of the people who come to Ireland seeking protection. The manner in which they are treated is the cruellest manifestation of state racism. All political parties who have been in government since 1997 support the direct provision system and deportation, these are Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party and the former Progressive Democrats.
For the minority who finally get residency, more problems face them. For example a GNIB Card costs €300; people cannot leave the hostel without one. Yet those being asked for €300 are those who have been denied the right to work since they arrived in the country. When they finally leave the hostel, in many cases they are forced to deal with unsympathetic Community Welfare Officers and are given no support to help rebuild their lives after being institutionalised for many years.
Resistance. Government policy towards asylum seekers is not unchallenged however. Anti Deportation Ireland (ADI) an organisation led by asylum seekers and former asylum seekers, with the support of a number of Irish/ Europeans, was launched on 3rd October 2012. ADI has three demands,
1. The end of all deportations.
2. The closure of the direct provision system.
3. The right of asylum seekers to work.
ADI will over the coming months be seeking support for its campaign. We would ask all those who are opposed to racism in all its manifestations, including state racism, to support the asylum seekers fight for justice.