Covid-19 has ‘worsened’ disadvantage facing migrants in Ireland

Cramped living conditions and impact of crisis on sectors where many from minority groups work highlighted by NESC

The Covid-19 pandemic has tended to worsen the disadvantage experienced by migrants and ethnic minorities in Ireland, according to the findings of a new report.

The National Economic and Social Council (NESC) said in a working paper that direct provision centres are not conducive to Covid-19 public health guidelines such as social distancing. It said some residents had to share rooms with non-family members, some use canteens that cater for all residents at once at mealtimes and others use shared washing and laundry spaces.

There have been a number of Covid-19 outbreaks across direct provision centres which can be linked to the aforementioned issues, NESC found. The report notes that changes made in response to the disease in direct provision centres included additional beds, self-isolation facilities and PPE distribution.

Hospital Report

Among the wider population, non-Irish nationals make up just over 12 per cent (620,000 people) of the population in Ireland. The countries with the highest number of immigrants in Ireland are Poland and the UK, followed by Lithuania, Romania and Brazil. Around 5,000 asylum seekers are living in direct provision centres.


Financial effects

On average, migrant families have a lower level of income than Irish families and so are likely to feel the financial effects of the Covid-19 lockdown “more strongly”, the report notes.

Non-Irish nationals are over-represented in sectors severely affected by Covid-19 closures, including accommodation and food. Overall, they are less likely to be essential workers than Irish nationals, but African and Asian groups are over-represented in the health sector.

Migrant workers are more likely to be in lower-paid jobs, and some of these have poor working and employment conditions. Outbreaks of Covid-19 in meat plants have “exposed the risks” present in some workplaces with a concentration of migrants.

On housing, a higher proportion of non-Irish nationals than the general population are living in rented rather than owner-occupied accommodation, which “increases the likelihood of overcrowding, sharing space with non-family members, and less control over the use of space”.

“This can have impacts on the ability to socially distance, and to work from home,” the report said.

Contract disease

The report also pointed out that recent research suggests Black, Black Irish, Asian, Asian Irish and Traveller groups are more likely to contract Covid-19 than those who are White Irish.

“This may be linked to their occupation and housing conditions,” it said. “The death rates are lower than those of the White Irish group, which may be related to the younger age profile of these ethnic minority groups.”

Ethnic minorities make up a disproportionate number of domestic abuse service users and are “likely to be affected by the rise of this abuse since the pandemic”.

Furthermore, a number of Asian people in Ireland reported an increase in racist attitudes towards them in 2020, which they attribute to “links made between Asian individuals and the origins of Covid-19 in China”.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter