A degrading and cruel system
On average asylum seekers in the State’s direct provision system spend three years and eight months accommodated in conditions that are often overcrowded, bleak and unhygienic. Hundreds have spent over seven years in the centres and in this inhumane system while pursuing appeals against deportation.
Forbidden to work to support their families, they exist on food and clothing provided for them directly by the State and a pittance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child. All told 4,600 people – including more than 1,000 children – live under such circumstances in 34 accommodation centres run by private contractors spread across 17 counties. (The contractors received some €62 million from the State last year.)
To make matters worse it appears clear, from inspection reports for the Reception and Integration Agency released to this paper under Freedom of Information (FOI),that significant numbers of such centres have been failing even to meet minimum standards of decency.
The reports chronicle unhygienic food preparation, overcrowded rooms, rotting floorboards, serious cleanliness issues, blocked emergency exits, fire doors wedged open, faulty showers and fire alarms. In one case a family of six were reported to be living in one room, and there were several reports of breaches of child protection standards, notably of children left alone or under the care of older siblings. Inspectors, who visit each centre at least three times a year, reported surprise at the volume of lapses in standards or general maintenance issues in some centres.
In at least three cases in the past year the agency threatened to terminate contracts, and to be fair, contractors apparently raised standards satisfactorily or promised to do so. But critics of the system also warn that many asylum seekers are afraid to complain about conditions for fear of being transferred away from friends and contact networks.
That the inspections are conducted by the agency rather than an independent body is also of concern – much like the HSE reporting on children’s or nursing homes instead of the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa). Indeed the authority’s remit could usefully be extended to such centres. And unlike Hiqa’s reports which are published online, these reports have emerged only from costly FOI requests. The Department of Justice’s instinctive secretiveness must be overcome. Above all, what these reports do, however, is provide a glimpse at a cruel, miserable system that degrades people who, for the most part, have fled to these shores for protection. It is a system that is deliberately punitive to discourage refugees, and not worthy of a State such as ours.