Life in direct provision ‘degrading’, committee told

Asylum seekers tell Oireachtas committee centres are 'like being in an open prison'

People living in the direct provision system find the level of control exerted over their lives "degrading", an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Stephen Ng'ang'a, who has lived in the system for eight years, said many of those seeking asylum in Ireland felt as if they were living in an open prison as they regularly had to sign in and out of their accomodation.

“Would you consider that as a home?” asked Mr Ng’ang’a, who said two of his children were born in the direct provision system. “If you are signing into your house everyday, that is a prison.”

He told the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions that life in the system was "degrading to the human dignity of the people" living in it.

There were "CCTV cameras all over the place" and this represented "State control over the lives of the asylum seekers", said Mr Ng'ang'a, who appeared with Irish Refugee Council staff.

The complaints mechanism for people living in direct provision was tailored to suit service providers and the Reception and Integration Agency and the excluded party was the asylum seeker, he added.

If someone complained to the manager of a centre it was unlikely the matter would go any further as he did not “ expect a manager to write a bad report about their company”.

“If direct provision is really there to provide, it does not meet its remit,” he said.

Responding, Independent TD Michael Healy Rae said people living in direct provision came to Ireland in good faith but were left "lingering" for years.

Pako Mokoba, who has been in the direct provision for six years, told the committee it was like living in an institution.

“If I don’t want to take breakfast, I am forced to wake up and take breakfast. If I don’t want to take lunch, I have to take lunch at a certain time,” she said. “Some people are 14 years in the system. So many people are depressed…You don’t have any private life.”

Children in the system were used to a home-life that was confined to one room and they had nowhere to play, Ms Mokoba said.

“How do you educate a child when there is no table, no space?” she asked.

Ms Mokoba, who appeared with representatives of Anti-Deportation Ireland, said people who complained about conditions were transferred elsewhere.

She accused the agency of not speaking to residents about what they were going through and said that it appeared service providers were aware of upcoming inspections as they knew to paint rooms and cook better food.

“The owners of the system are gaining” while the asylum seekers remain in limbo, she said.

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll is an Assistant News Editor with The Irish Times