Direct Provision and COVID-19


DUBLIN, IRELAND 06/04/2020

Good morning, everybody. My name is Lucky Khambule. I am from the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MAS). I am here to talk to you today about the COVID-19 in the context of Direct Provision (DP).

Four things I just want to elaborate on today.

  1. The way that the residents are currently with regard to the pandemic
  2. I am also going to speak to you in regard to what we are doing as MASI in addressing this situation.
  3. Also, I am going to speak about what the government is doing – or their response thereof – in terms of Direct Provision; and
  4. We will also talk about what the current situation is as of today.

First, with regard to the individuals living in Direct Provision. As you would know, there are so many of these centres now (over 60, including the emergency accommodation centres). One of the major things we have always complained about and cried about is the cramping lifestyle of living in Direct Provision.

When this COVID-19 came and there was this social distancing – which was advised by the HSE – one of the things that was of great concern to us was the fact that if you are living in Direct Provision, you are sharing with three, four, five, sometimes seven people in a room in a cramped space sharing the same bedrooms, sharing the kitchen, [and] the dining. We saw it as very very impossible – it was practically impossible for people to self-isolate and observe the 2 metre (or 6 feet) distancing that the HSE was suggesting.

We raised these issues with the Department to ask them what is it that they are going to do to address this issue because our concern was that if there could be any outbreak in Direct Provision, it would be very hard for them to contain it. Rightfully so. We have been communicating with people from all the centres and all of them are overcrowded.

Remember, this is coming out of the fact that there has been an increase of numbers coming into the country and the space meant that all the centres were overcrowded. The minimum number of people in a room would be three, and in some cases as well there are families sharing one bedroom and five people. There are centres where mothers are sharing with teenagers in the same room. So, that is why we are concerned with regard to the response of the government.

What we did on the 19th of March 2020 – we wrote actually to the minister to highlight our concerns and one of the concerns that we have was the fact that there are vulnerable people living in Direct Provision that are not immune to this pandemic so we felt that it was important in line with HSE for the government to take out the people who are over 60 and who have underlying long-term illnesses out of Direct Provision. It seemed to be there were more high risk people to get this and it would be hard for them to contain it if they do. So, we appealed to the government, the Minister, to look into that and we wrote to him and he responded (to his credit) on the 24th of March 2020. We were happy to get that response even though the response wasn’t anywhere close to what we requested him to do. It was just a blind thing they were doing in terms of general protection in a broader attempt.

“All of the accommodation centres were asked to complete contingency plan for the COVID-19 and this plan is currently being actively reviewed by IPAS [the International Protection Accommodation Service]”

Nowhere in the letter did he respond with regard to the calls we made to him to take out the elderly and put them in a safe place. Up to date that has not been done.
We have seen a lot of correspondence from the Justice Department to the residents. One of them was on the 19th of March as well, which was addressing the issue that people were allowed to move out of the Direct Provision centre and go to live with friends for the duration of the COVID-19. And then they also went on to say that the people who have moved to stay with friends won’t be penalised for moving out and they will be able to still keep their bed and come back after the crisis is over. They emphasised that once you move out, you cannot come back while the crisis is still on. Also, they mentioned that people would not be able to – I mean, still continue to have their weekly allowance of €8.

That was their response to try and ease the pressure of Direct Provision, so we were not really, really comfortable with that as well. It was something that we always asked them (to allow people to live with friends) but also provide for them. If I was going to be living with someone with 2, 3, 4 weeks, somebody would be able to also assist in terms of payments in the running of the house. But if you are not given that, you are not making any difference to that person. Moreover, the centre managers will still get your money even if you are not there in the centre.

And then, again, there is continuous communication and posting and posters in the centres themselves. To us, this kind of system lacks the human touch in terms of communicating with the people directly. I would have expected the management would be able to bring people together observing the distancing and explain to them what this communications are – because people are reading this differently. And as a result, they take their own actions. But there is a lack of communication.

What has happened as well is that there are people who’ve been tested positive in the centre, who were moved to the hospitals but still there is no communication. The residents are left to speculate as to what is happening. There is no precautions that is being given to people, that say “okay, we are in this situation in our centre. Please be vigilant. Please take care. Please observe”. Something like that is lacking from the local management

We have seen a lady for instance, in Cork in one of the centres in Millstreet, where two people were tested positive there last week. One has got a daughter. She was asked to isolate herself with the daughter. So, she was in isolation with the daughter. She was tested positive. She not just in isolation with symptoms. She was tested – she did test positively. To us, it is a lack of care for the child to lock that child with the mother. The child is put is risk as far as that is concerned.

Centres like in Bray, for instance, there was a man who was tested positive. In Grand Hotel in Wicklow a person tested positive there. He went to the hospital but was fortunately last week he was cleared. He is back in the centre now. But what worried us was the treatment he received from management because of the fact the management didn’t want him back to the centre even though the hospital cleared that person to be fit to go. It was only when we – because he let us know about that – we addressed that, and he is back there now. But they tried to make his life difficult by penalising him for not reporting to them that he was going to hospital. But he did actually phone them to advise them that he had been admitted. The guy didn’t know what else he needed to do.

In terms – as I said also – the response from the government; it has been very slow and very calculated in a way in terms of how to address this issue. Last week they came up with the announcement that they are sourcing 650 beds to ease the pressure from Direct Provision and we thought that at least they would have learnt that when they put people in these new accommodation there will be at least less movement in there in terms of people being cramped again. The pictures we received yesterday for the centres people went to – they opened one in Galway Travelodge and one in Cork Travelodge and Central Hotel in Dublin. We got pictures already from people that moved on Friday to Galway and it’s still the same thing. It’s the same number – the people are sharing in threes and fours there. So, you wonder now what does it mean when you are trying to practice this social distancing.

But at the same time, the same system that you trying to run away from (Direct Provision) is the same. It’s just a duplicate of the same thing. Yet people are told that we got 650 beds and it’s just a highlight to let the world and the people in Ireland to learn that this is what they are doing – that they are providing 650 beds. But the safety is still not there. It is a problem.

So, all we are saying from and still saying from the Movement of Asylum Seekers’ point of view is that the elderly must be moved. Ambulances keep getting called now and then to come and take care of people that are getting sick there. And we are slow as a government in terms of addressing these issues. Last night, I was on the call from a new centre that was opened 2-3 weeks ago in Kerry where there was three ladies sharing a room there. The other one was sickly for over a week, and on during the weekend she got worse and she was showing all these signs (like coughing, high temperature, heavy breathing) and the doctor when they called the doctor said to them (to one of the roommates) that they must manage the medication an dmonitor the temperature. The person was refusing to do that because she says “who will be responsible if anything ghappenes to this person?” She is not trained to administer anything. It’s this kind of response that is really worrying us in terms of the urgency we are treating. Especially when the people are in asylum.

Lastly, there are people on the front lines who are asylum seekers. They go to home cares as home carers, givers, and nurses to work hard for the Irish people to get better. But at the end of the day, those people will go back to their rooms in Direct Provision exposing themselves as well as the other residents that didn’t go anywhere. You would say or think that the people who are doing so much to work for Ireland would be well taken care of. We say, move them from the Direct Provision centre to apartments so they can continue with the work because the shortage of staff is every day. There is nothing that can be done to make sure the nurses are available. But it is a concern to the other residents that are not going out as inserted by the Department – that you not go out for any reason unless you are on a job like that.

As recent as yesterday, one of the centres in Macroom in Cork there was a – there were people there working in a local hospital there or care place. And there was a positive case in that care. All right? Where people were working. And that came later. It came to the centre that the people staying in that centre are working in that place where there is a positive case of COVID-19. But fortunately in terms of the manager there – there’s a new manager there – they actually reacted very very fast to arrange residents and families to be moved away from the centre and to be housed elsewhere. That, to us, was a good quick reaction to danger. But we are saying that can also be prevented from happening by not waiting for a case to be positive for people to act. They can act quickly and urgently as early as now so that people can be able to take actions with regard to that to protect the others. Because those that stay at home will still need to be protected.

People still share dining rooms, share kitchens, they share everything. When they go to the post office, they still share. We want people to be able to take money and put into their bank accounts so they can be able to make everybody safe. Because with this COVID-19 nobody is safe, and nobody knows. All you have to do is just exercise social distancing, wash your hands, make sure you don’t touch your face and just keep a clean clean bill of health as much as you can.

And that is what I can say with regard to that as far as the Direct Provision is concerned.
Thank you very much for your time. Let’s all fight and work together so that everybody is safe irregardless of who they are, where they come from, where they live. Direct Provision as well is the worst kind of situation whereby this COVID can find you in. Thank you very much. Good-bye.