Asylum seekers welcome offer of Integration Agency meeting

Residents at Waterford centre say they will continue with protest until RIA meeting

File image of asylum seekers, refugees and human rights supporters marching from the Dáil to The Department of Justice on Stephens Green in Dublin last year. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

File image of asylum seekers, refugees and human rights supporters marching from the Dáil to The Department of Justice on Stephens Green in Dublin last year. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

Over 100 asylum seekers protesting in Waterford have welcomed a decision of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) to meet them but said they will continue with the protest until then.

Residents at Birchwood House Direct Provision Centre began the protest at 6am yesterday morning, locking out staff and preventing deliveries to the centre on the Ballytruckle Road in the city.

Over 40 residents resumed picket duties outside the centre this morning and one of those protesting, Gabriel Mende, said they would continue with the protest until they meet RIA officials.

“The Reception and Integration Agency sent a letter to the manager of the hostel which they have shown us offering to meet us on Monday to discuss our concern,” said Mr Mende. “We welcome the decision by the agency to meet us but we will continue with the protest until Monday - all the residents here at the centre are supporting the protest action.”

Mr Mende, who is originally from Democratic Republic of Congo and has been in Birchwood for three years, confirmed protesters were not allowing staff or deliveries into the centre today.

He said children from Birchwood had not gone to school yesterday as part of the protest, but today children from the centre were attending local primary and secondary schools.

According to the Department of Justice, there are currently 112 residents at Birchwood House, which has been in operation as direct provision centre since February 2001, apart from a six month period in 2003. The residents claim there are 160 people living there.

The current contract for direct provision services at Birchwood dates from December 18th last and is with a Cork registered company, Stompool Investments which is listed as a hotel and motel operator with a registered office at South Mall, Cork.

According to the Department of Justice, Stampool Investments have been in discussions with the protesting residents and has indicated a willingness to discuss local concerns specific to the Waterford centre with the residents.

“We understand the protest also concerns non-local issues relating, for example, to the length of time spent in the direct provision. The proprietor has indicated to the protestors that officials from RIA will speak to residents in the near future on these issues,” a department spokeswoman said.

She said it is understood the protesters are considering the offer from Stompool Investments and will respond tomorrow.

“As a general point, the broad concerns about the operation of the Direct Provision system are now being addressed by way of an independent Working Group to be chaired by former High Court judge Bryan McMahon,” she said.

“The membership of the Group and its terms of reference will be announced shortly. The specific commitment in the Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 is to establish an independent Working Group to report to Government on improvements with the protection process, including Direct Provision and supports for asylum seekers.

“In the longer term, the Statement of Government Priorities also acknowledges the commitment to legislate to reduce the length of time the applicant spends in the system through the establishment of a single applications procedure, to be introduced by way of a Protection Bill. Work on Immigration and Residence Bill will also continue.”

Attempts to contact Stompool Investments, whose owners and directors are listed as Alan Hyde and Tadhg Murphy, were unsuccessful.