Irish Times view on coronavirus in direct provision: a sharp wake-up call

Even washing hands properly can be a problem in shared accommodation

The Irish Refugee Council has called on the Government to move people who are within risk categories to accommodation where they can adhere to social distancing rules and cocoon if necessary. File photograph: Getty

The Irish Refugee Council has called on the Government to move people who are within risk categories to accommodation where they can adhere to social distancing rules and cocoon if necessary. File photograph: Getty

 

Reports that a resident of a direct provision centre in the west has been diagnosed with coronavirus needs to be a wake-up call to the health authorities and those charged with their care.

Groups working with refugees are seeking urgent action. The congested locations, where social distancing is almost impossible, are likely to becomes centres of infection unless action is taken immediately to relocate their most vulnerable residents to appropriate facilities.

On Monday, the Department of Justice promised only to establish an “off-site self-isolation facility for centre residents who are suspected of having the virus or who have the virus with mild symptoms”. The vulnerable, who have not yet been infected, will remain in the centres.

Currently 5,686 refugees and asylum seekers, including 1,739 children, are living in 39 direct provision centres. About 1,585 people, including 285 children, are also staying in emergency accommodation. And the housing crisis is compounding the challenge as many of those granted asylum or refugee status find themselves unable to find affordable accommodation and are forced to stay on in the centres – the number has risen sharply in little more than a year to 1,024.

Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre chief executive Fiona Finn warns that in centres up to six people are living in the same room and many are immuno-compromised. Even washing hands properly can be a problem. While only about 27 of the total number of residents in centres are over 65, informed sources estimate as much as 20 per cent have pre-existing conditions .

The Irish Refugee Council (IRC) has called on the Government to move people who are within risk categories to accommodation where they can adhere to social distancing rules and cocoon if necessary. The call has been echoed by Graham Clifford, who runs the Cork-based Sanctuary Runners’ movement. “There are empty hotels, empty Airbnb properties, empty college accommodation – if appropriate, we should use these before it’s too late,” he says.

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