Refugee rights organisation calls for asylum seekers to be removed from direct provision during pandemic

Aine O'Boyle

An Irish organisation campaigning for the rights of refugees has called for asylum seekers to be removed from direct provision centres during the coronavirus pandemic.

CEO of Nasc, Fiona Finn has asked for asylum seekers to be taken out of direct provision as a matter of urgency as two people living in centres across the country have tested positive for COVID-19.

While the Department of Justice has instructed direct provision centres to dedicate self-isolation rooms for those displaying symptoms of coronavirus, a lack of space and resources in the centres may not allow for this.

The Department have said that they will also pilot plans for an off-site self-isolation unit for asylum seekers suspected of having COVID-19.

“Intensive work is ongoing to put this facility in place,” said the Department.

Finn, who has been in regular contact with asylum seekers, has said that they are feeling very afraid and alone during this time, finding it near impossible to follow the advice of the HSE to social distance themselves during this time due to the cramped and confined conditions they are living in.

“They’re hearing the recommendations to social distance, or to avoid social gatherings of more than four people but it’s simply not possible for most people in direct provision centres,” she said.

The Department has also introduced measures such as a ban on visitors and staggered meal-times in locations that have shared cooking facilities to promote social distancing.

Another group campaigning for the rights of refugees, Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), have also spoken out about those living in direct provision during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lucky Kombole of MASI told RTÉ Drivetime: “”There is a lot of anxiety, people don’t know what to do, how can people save themselves in that situation. I know a mother who is expecting a baby. She has two with her.  Her living conditions are scary to her, everyone is scared.”

MASI have launched a petition calling for those with pre-existing medical condition or those aged 60 or over to be removed from direct provision and relocated in accommodation that can support social distance requirements amid the coronavirus pandemic.

CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, Nick Henderson, has also contacted the Minister for Justice, Charles Flanaghan, asking the government to consider “moving people, who are within the HSE risk categories, to accommodation where they can adhere to social distancing… and self-isolate and cocoon if necessary.”

Aine O’Boyle

Image Credit: Brian Farrell