Asylum seekers living in Ballyhaunis, under a system described this week as ‘inhumane, unjust and unfair’, have brought their plight to the door of the Taoiseach’s constituency office.
Between 250 and 270 asylum seekers, including some 80 children, are living in the Old Convent - some for more than a decade - in hostel style accommodation, while they wait for their asylum applications to be heard.
On Wednesday, a number of the residents staged a protest, organised by Mayo Intercultural Action, in Market Square, Castlebar, calling for an end to the direct provision system.
Under direct provision, asylum seekers are grouped together in hostels and must remain there until their case for asylum is heard. They are not authorised to work and instead are provided with accommodation, set meals, and an allowance of €19.10 a week per adult and €9.60 per child.
One woman taking part in the demonstration told the Mayo Advertiser she has been living in the Old Convent for more than seven years. Her eight-year-old daughter has grown up in direct provision and knows no other way of life.
They came to Ireland seeking asylum from the volatile political situation in Rwanda.
She lives in a unit with three other families, none of whom she is related or connected to, and she said she feels “stigmatised” and “forced to live in poverty” under the direct provision system.
“People look on us with suspicion - almost evil eyes - because we are kept here like this, separate to everyone else. It is demoralising, depressing, and it strips away our dignity, makes us feel less than human. We can’t provide for our children who are missing out on their childhood,” she described.
“This system is flawed. We hope the Government will look on our plight here today and make a change.”
The protestors marched to the constituency office of Mr Kenny and handed in a letter urging the Taoiseach to end the direct provision system.
Patricia Luby, who works with MIA, says many children are growing up in direct provision and have no sense of what normal family life is.
“This was originally introduced as a short term solution but some people have been living like this for 10 years and more,” she said.
“Here in Ireland we have a very dark history in the way we have treated vulnerable people in institutional situations in the past. In light of all that has emerged, how can we now ignore these asylum seekers who are living in conditions where there are clearly major child protection issues.”
Cllr Therese Ruane, who founded MIA 10 years ago, says people are living in cramped, unsuitable, conditions and being deprived of their human rights under direct provision.
“It is inhumane, unjust, and cruel. Direct provision must end. It must end now.”