home Opinion Les Vulnerables- Ireland’s Refugee Industry

Les Vulnerables- Ireland’s Refugee Industry

If Direct Provision is a business, then human beings are its livestock. And the Irish government is its financier. 

The system usually works like this- the Irish government pays money to private, for-profit companies (to the tune of a total €1.2 billion since 2000). In return, these companies’ staff and furnish centres that receive, house and feed asylum seekers who arrive in Ireland. This system was established through an order by then Minister for Justice John O’Donoghue, thus avoiding the scrutiny of, and mandate from, the Oireachtas. When initially set up, the system was intended to be a temporary one, and it was thought that it would house asylum seekers for the first 6 months of their stay. In the McMahon Report of 2014, however, it was found that 4000 people had been within the system for over 5 years. 

Do these companies profit from detaining of the most vulnerable in Irish society? This is doubtless, but how much money they earn from this, they are not obliged to report due to their status as private, unlimited companies. What’s more, many of the companies that own Direct Provision centres have made moves to further decrease the transparency they have to face through empty parent companies based in places like the Isle of Man, which demands very little accountability. Mosney Holidays PLC, the company who has received the most state funding of all the suppliers of Direct Provision at €136 million from 2002-2018 is one such company. The Mosney camp that houses up to 800 asylum seekers is run and owned in part by millionaires Phelim and Elizabeth McCluskey and undoubtedly earns them a tidy profit. We should stop for a moment and reflect on the utter absurdity that such a sentence as the previous one makes sense in any kind of world.

One difficulty in talking about Direct Provision is that the conditions vary widely from camp to camp. However, some of the broad points of this system of dehumanising institutionalisation ought to be repeated here. 

6,355 people (as of January) now live in this life of constant waiting in which they cannot work, move freely or participate in higher education. Though the government recently changed rules around employment, this was only after the Supreme Court found the ban unconstitutional. This new legislation allowed asylum seekers to request a permit to work, though this is only allowed if one has been in the system for 8 months or more. Permits only last for 6 months at a time. If an employer knows someone may not be granted permission again in 6 months, it is likely they will not hire asylum seekers. Not to mention the fact that many highly skilled and qualified people seek a safe home in Ireland- years of inaction leads to a process of deskilling, and an overall reduction in their ability to function outside of these institutions.

The industry is rife with reports of intimidation, short food supplies and other deficiencies that even prisoners are afforded. 

Adults are given €38.80 a week to live on and children €29.80. While these payments mark an increase from the past, some people living within the centres say that they often have no choice but to buy goods from shops run from the centre itself. What’s more, many detainees of this refugee industry need to use much of their weekly allowance on phone credit or cellular data in order to keep in touch with their family and friends as well as keep up to date on their own legal proceedings. 

Despite the generous funding of the site run by Mosney, it was reported last year that they had sold out of date food to their habitants. Muslim asylum seekers are unable to celebrate Ramadan due to the strictly controlled (and sometimes changed) dining times in centres that are not equipped with kitchens for residents. More broadly, catering does not accommodate dietary requirements (be they health related or religious/cultural). One centre forces groups of 6-8 people to share one room, with only curtains to give any semblance of privacy.

The State’s ex-Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, described the treatment of children in Direct Provision as “second-class citizens”. 44 people died in these institutions from 2007 to 2016, but one-in-three have an unknown cause of death. A high-profile case this summer saw the remains of a transgender woman, who was being held in an all-male camp, buried without informing her friends or family. The toll of Direct Provision is a heavy one- it comes as no surprise that a Royal College of Surgeons study found that the length of time spent within the system was associated with higher rates of psychiatric disorders.

This industry is dehumanising, it is harmful, and it is working exactly as designed. The humiliation, stasis, and the arbitrary and unusual control that centre managers have over human beings is meant to discourage other desperate people from seeking refuge in a country that prides itself in its hospitality. What one asylum seeker called ‘state-sponsored poverty’ is exactly what the government wishes upon the defenceless who come to Ireland for shelter in order to make Ireland out to be tough on immigration.

We have made an industry out of the most vulnerable humans in the country, an industry which processes people with a real and urgent need for security in their future into a further marginalised and withdrawn class, who spend years in Kafkaesque limbo. Primrose, an asylum seeker who arrived in Ireland when she was 19 had this to say to an Irish Times reporter on her 8 years of institutionalisation- “some of us, we came here when we were normal, but now we are abnormal”. 

We are a country that is perhaps more aware than others of the harm of the institutionalisation of those we see as ‘Others’ and outcasts. The last Magdalene laundry shut its doors in 1996, the last mother and baby home in 1998. But a year and change after this, Direct Provision was introduced. After the collective congratulatory self-back-slapping by politicians following the long-overdue legalisation of marriage equality and the repeal of the 8th amendment to the constitution, the glaring hypocrisy of human rights in Ireland reveals itself once more- you can have inalienable human rights, but only if you are one of us.