A strong call has been made in Mayo to end institutionalised living for asylum seekers under the direct provision system. There are approximately 300 asylum seekers in direct provision accommodation in Mayo in the Ballyhaunis centre.
Tuesday was the National Day of Action on Direct Provision and a lively demonstration on Castlebar’s Market Square was attended by many of the asylum seekers living in direct provision accommodation in Mayo.
The demonstration was organised by Mayo Intercultural Action (MIA ) which has called on the Government to introduce a model of reception for asylum seekers that is based on providing supports for people seeking protection, with provisions for appropriate self-catering accommodation and the right to work after a six month period if a decision on the protection application is pending.
The current system of direction provision was originally established to accommodate residents for up to six months, however, in reality the majority of people spend more than three years in direct provision, a strongly worded letter to An Taoiseach Enda Kenny outlined.
“Residents become institutionalised, experience social exclusion, and mental health difficulties due to the delay in processing protection applications, enforced unemployment, enforced poverty, and limited access to education and training,” Michelle Rooney of MIA, said in the letter.
“The impact of living in direct provision is particularly significant for children, who make up more than one third of direct provision residents. Children are living in an institutional environment sharing their daily lives and living space with non-family members for several years. Children in direct provision do not receive child benefit payments, and experience poverty and social exclusion as a result of their living conditions. The environment of direct provision is not suitable to enjoy family life and is not a system within which children should spend significant childhood years,” Ms Rooney continued.
In conclusion to her letter Ms Rooney said: “In your poignant apology to the women who were subjected to institutional living within the Magdalene laundries you referred to the values of Irish society and asserted that society now has ‘more compassion, empathy, insight and heart’. If society is now ‘guided by the principles of compassion and social justice’, and embraces and values difference rather than fearing and hiding it, then the State must take responsibility for the impact the direct provision system has on young people and their families, and must act to end this system as a matter of urgency.”
Speaking at the demonstration, founder of MIA Castlebar town councillor Therese Ruane said she has seen people broken by direct provision. Ireland is only one of two European countries, Denmark being the other, which does not allow asylum seekers to work after six months.
“People are forced to live in abject poverty. The Government has abdicated responsibility. They have given it out to private companies making huge profits on the back of asylum seekers,” said Cllr Ruane, who said non-profit organisations should be running the centres and people should be allowed to move out and raise their families with dignity and respect after six months.
The Ballyhaunis centre is the only remaining direct provision accommodation centre in Mayo and many of its residents attended Tuesday’s demonstration.
One asylum seeker, in a moving speech, said: “We need to feel like humans again. Our children do not see us as adequate. It makes us ashamed. We see men in direct provision accommodation break down and cry like babies. It’s not easy to put into words what direct provision accommodation does to people.”
She likened direct provision to a prison. “We can’t go out without permission. Our children are excluded from school activities. It is not a life.”
According to Ruth McNeely, director of the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre, nothing has angered her as much as direct provision. “It has broken our hearts. We are here in solidarity. Nothing in direct provision represents me. You are not forgotten,” she told the crowd.