Ireland's direct-provision hostels like 'refugee camps'


LIFE FOR asylum seekers living in direct provision centres in Ireland has come to mirror that found in refugee camps in the developing world, a new report on the experience of Somali refugees claims.

A lack of support when people leave the centres and move into Irish society also makes integration difficult and exposes individuals to high unemployment and troublesome resettlement, it says.

From Catastrophe to Marginalisation: the Experiences of Somali Refugees in Irelandconcludes the difficulties faced by Somali refugees are “emblematic of the limits of Ireland’s integration policies”.

“Fleeing catastrophic war conditions and arriving in Europe, often without linguistic or educational skills, Somali refugees experience high unemployment rates, difficult educational trajectories and troublesome resettlement.

“Race and religious discrimination, coupled with isolation due to the difficulties in securing family reunification, compound their less than smooth resettlement,” says the report, which was compiled by the Trinity Immigration Initiative and Horn of Africa People’s Aid, a refugee advocate organisation.

The report is based on a small number of in-depth interviews with Somali refugees and asylum seekers and focus-group discussions with community groups.

It estimates there are up to 3,000 Somalis living in Ireland, many of whom are refugees. Figures from the Reception and Integration Agency show 282 Somali asylum seekers were living in direct-provision hostels in July.

The report criticises the direct provision system, which it says interviewees agreed has “come to mirror the iconic refugee camps of the developing world in the 1970s and 1980s”.

“This observation our participants bore witness to by using the word ‘camps’ to refer to the hostels they were accommodated in,” it says.

A 70-year-old Somali woman who spent three years in a direct provision hostel in Limerick, and a further two years in Mosney, said: “I spent three years in Limerick . . I was feeling I was in jail . . . sharing with the other two people in a room . . . when I was sick . . . they were just playing music.

“I had blood pressure . . . heart disease . . . and I also had a lot of headaches, so I was in and out [of hospital] all the time . . . I was healthy when I first arrived,” she added.

The report says the mental, emotional and physical effects of living in direct provision, and of asylum and reception policies, can be devastating. It also criticises the huge stress placed on asylum seekers attempting to prove they are genuine refugees.

The report highlights the case of one family where the father was granted refugee status following a language test conducted by the authorities to determine his origin, while his son was rejected following the same language test. In this case, the father was blind.

The report identifies a general lack of co-ordinated resettlement support services dealing with refugees’ accommodation, employment and education needs. Just one of the nine individuals interviewed for the report was able to find a job, while serious difficulties were reported for Somalis adapting to the school system.

Despite the considerable hurdles faced by Somali refugees, the report concludes that all those who took part in the study had been able to rebuild their lives in a new country, learn a new language and acquire new skills.

It also recommends reform of the asylum system and a change in the official attitude to asylum seekers. Its main recommendations are to:

  • View people seeking asylum as refugees awaiting formal recognition, rather than criminalising them;
  • permit asylum seekers to work to prevent de-skilling and poverty;
  • abolish the direct provision and dispersal system, which fails to meet human rights standards;
  • follow the new UNHCR guidelines of May 2010, asking governments to assess applications for refugee status from central and southern Somalia in the broadest possible way;
  • assist people leaving direct provision to find housing;
  • firmly establish anti-racism within integration and resettlement policies, and
  • deal with family reunification applications in the most humane and expeditious manner.
'I am exhausted. I don't want to end up in a psychiatric hospital'

“Then I was moved to Mosney, which is better and made me feel like a human being again. But after almost six years waiting for a decision on my case I am feeling very depressed. I risked my life coming to Europe but I can’t stand it any more. If the Government can’t accept me then send me to another country. It’s a big crime to leave human beings in direct provision for this length of time. I have three children and I’m exhausted. I don’t want to end up in a psychiatric hospital.”