Asylum seekers in food protest over delays
Portlaoise parish priest compares institution to an open prison
Waiting: asylum seekers at the Montague Hotel, in Emo, Co Laois, where many have been living for years under the direct provision system. Some residents began refusing food this week in protest about delays to their asylum applications and the conditions in which they live. Photograph: Alan Betson
Asylum seekers at an accommodation centre in the midlands have begun refusing food in protest over living conditions and delays in processing their applications.
It is the third centre in as many weeks where people seeking refugee status have held protests against the direct provision system.
The Montague Hotel, in Emo, Co Laois, which accommodates about 160 asylum seekers, including dozens of children, is operated by a commercial contractor on behalf of the State. Under the direct provision system, residents receive full board, accommodation and a weekly allowance of €19.10.
Residents who spoke to The Irish Times said they have been refusing food and plan to continue their protests until the weekend. Many said their frustration was not directed at the management of the hotel itself, but at the system, which has left many waiting up to a decade or more for their applications to be resolved.
“We wonder is the system designed to break or destroy us. We are human. We need to be able to get on with our lives,” said Patricia, who declined to give her full name.
Another resident, who has lived at the hotel for seven years, said many were being prescribed antidepressants to help them cope. “I have been sharing a single room with my children for years. There is no space, no privacy,” she said.
The protest has drawn support from some local clergy. Msgr John Byrne, priest of Portlaoise parish, said there was little awareness of the conditions in which people lived.
“Children are growing up in an institution that in some ways is like an open prison,” he said. “I see young people who aren’t able to be involved in any recreation or activity outside school. People are isolated and they’re caught in a limbo. It’s inhumane to treat people this way for years on end.”
Msgr Byrne said he planned to raise the issue at Mass this weekend and will seek community support for the plight of asylum seekers.
In a statement, the Reception and Integration Agency, the State body responsible for direct provision, said it was aware that some residents at the centre had announced a protest. It claimed that some residents told management they had no difficulty with staff or services but the protest was at the length of time people were spending in the system. By Tuesday, it said, the “vast majority” of residents were taking meals, while a “small number” were not accepting food. This was disputed yesterday by residents involved in the protest.