Plea to protect children and adults in direct provision centres from Covid-19 - Congress

31 Mar 2020

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ICTU is calling on the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan to urgently put in place measures to protect those living in Direct Provision during the Covid-19 crisis.

The Government’s recommended strategy to self-isolate and self-quarantine, minimising human contact and social gatherings, is a vital tool in safeguarding human health and saving lives. The conditions for people in Direct Provision, however, are such that it is often not possible in practice to self-isolate.

Currently 5,686 refugees and asylum seekers, including 1,739 children, are living in 39 direct provision centres. About 1,585 people, including 285 children, are also staying in emergency accommodation.

The Movement for Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) have stated clearly that “As has been widely documented, people living in Direct Provision often live in very close quarters, sharing living spaces and other facilities with multiple families and individuals. Although HSE guidelines have been posted on notice boards in Direct Provision centres and efforts were made to translate them into some foreign languages. The HSE posters on social distancing are useless to an asylum seeker sharing a tiny bedroom with a stranger or as many as 7 other strangers, having to use communal bathrooms and congregate in a canteen for meals 3 times a day.“

ICTU supports the calls from organisations representing those in Direct Provision for emergency measures to be put in place which should include relocating immediately those who are older than 60 years old and people with pre-existing medical conditions-to places where they can effectively self-isolate and cocoon, subject of course to their informed consent and agreement.

These measures will greatly assist in the prevention of the creation of new epicentres of COVID-19, reduce the density in the Direct Provision centres, and help to diminish or at least slow the number of people infected by COVID-19 simultaneously.

Congress recognises that the Department of Justice and Equality has given commitments to establish an off-site self-isolation facility for centre residents who are suspected of having the virus or who have the virus with mild symptoms, but Congress believes that greater action is needed to ensure prevention against the spread of the virus in overcrowded Direct Provision centres.

The Irish Government needs to heed the advice issued by Dr. Michael J. Ryan Executive Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO). He has been clear that the efforts of states’ to tackle COVID-19 must not forget migrants and others who are particularly dependent on the state. This pandemic does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, or national origin. Everyone in our community is at risk.

John Bowen, Vice-Chair, ICTU Global Solidarity Committee said “The government cannot leave those in direct provision at the mercy of private operators. This has already led to massive disparities in the way each centre is responding to the pandemic. Some centres have ceased the congregation of residents in canteens at mealtimes while others continue as normal with simply just additional Coivd19 notices on walls. There is growing anxiety being experienced by asylum seekers who have little to no control over their lives given their dependency on the state. The state needs to act fast to ensure the safety and health of this vulnerable group in our society”

Yvonne O’ Callaghan, Chair, ICTU Global Solidarity Committee states “This current crisis must ensure that solidarity in our society is delivered equally. The discriminatory decision taken by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to exclude asylum seekers from the Covid19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment after they lost their jobs as a result of the crisis must be re-examined”.

It has been reported that the reason people who have lost work because of Covid-19 and are living in Direct Provision are not entitled to this payment is because they are deemed to be in receipt of a social welfare payment: the Direct Provision daily expenses allowance.

She further states “Ireland should join the Portuguese government in leading on solidarity in a time of crisis. The Portuguese government has decreed that all asylum seekers and all undocumented migrants with pending applications for residence are automatically temporarily granted residency and full access all state provisions including healthcare and social supports. People should not be deprived of their rights to services just because their application has not been processed. In these exceptional times, the rights of migrants must be guaranteed. Humane and compassionate leadership must be shown by the Irish government during these difficult times. If we are truly ‘all in this together’ then urgent action is needed now.”

Congress International Officer David Joyce added that “not only is there is no conflict between measures to protect public health and human rights frameworks.  In fact they can inform and support effective measures.  It is simply not in the public health interest to have direct provision centres that potentially spread the virus quickly”.