The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) have staged a protest outside of retailer Avoca on Suffolk Street, Dublin, in protest against the Aramark-owned company’s connections to direct provision centres in Ireland. Students of Trinity College Dublin also organised a boycott of the Aramark-run caterer on campus, Westland Eats, in November.
Aramark, which bought Avoca in 2015, runs three of Ireland’s direct provision centres, receiving €5.2 million from the Irish State in 2016 and €16 million before 2010, providing for about 850 asylum seekers.
The direct provision system, where asylum seekers in Ireland are required to live until they are granted refugee status, was installed as a “temporary measure” in April 2000. People living in direct provision receive an allowance of €21.60 per person, are not permitted to work or cook, and share rooms with their families in hotel-room conditions. The majority of Ireland’s 4,500 asylum seekers ultimately spend over three years in direct provision, with over 600 people in Ireland having spent over seven years in the system. The direct provision system has been criticised by the UN and by international human rights groups. There are 34 direct provision centres in Ireland, the majority of which are run by private companies.
There is no universal standard amongst these centres, many of which have come under fire for mistreatment of residents. In July 2017, residents of 50 of the mobile homes in a direct provision centre at Lissywollen, Athlone wrote a letter of complaint to the Department of Justice, complaining of poor food and hygiene conditions. Another privately-run centre in Limerick closed down in January 2017 due to health and safety concerns. This Christmas, residents of Knockalisheen Accommodation Centre organised a Christmas party, including a fundraiser for food and non-alcoholic drinks, only to find the ordinarily open communal space had been locked.
Speaking ahead of the protest, USI President Michael Kerrigan said, “The situation in direct provision is cruel, and people are stuck there for up to 7 years. People can’t work, people get just over €20 a week, and people have little to no access to fresh fruit, no access to self-catering or ethnic foods.
“People trapped in direct provision just have access to meals with chips almost every second day with a menu that only changes every fortnight. This will be one of the biggest shames of the Irish state since the Magdalene Laundries.”