Direct Provision is causing “untold psychological harm” says open letter to the Taoiseach

Direct Provision is barely meeting the basic psychological needs of asylum seekers and needs to be replaced with a “more humane and ethical alternative” according to an open letter addressed to the Taoiseach and Minister of Children. 

The letter from Psychologists for Social Change Ireland (PCS), a network of academic, applied and clinical psychologists and graduates, was signed by 150 psychologists demanding a “radical rehaul in order to protect and meet the development needs of all children living here”. 

Direct Provision is a system in place in Ireland that accommodates asylum seekers and provides for their basic needs while they await a decision on their applications for international protection.

According to charity Doras, the average person spends up to 2 years in Direct Provision centres, while others can spend 10 to 20 years there. 

According to Doras, asylum seekers are five times more likely to develop mental health or psychiatric issues.

Furthermore, the open letter said long waiting times in Direct Provision creates uncertainty of when this will end, often leading to suicide in times of hopelessness.  

At present, there are 7,000 people living in Direct Provision centres across Ireland, 30% of which are children. These centres are communal institutions or former hotel style settings, meaning most people have to share a single room with up to eight different people.  

In 2015, Minister Frances Fitzgerald confirmed that 61 people living in Direct Provision died between 2002 and 2014, including 16 children under the age of five.

The signatories of the open letter claim that they know of more people who have died since the Government stopped publishing this data. 

According to the Irish Examiner, Minister Fitzgerald confirmed that the 0-5 age group had the largest number of deaths among asylum seekers during those years.

Their cause of death is not publicly known; however, it is assumed a number of them were still born or cot deaths. 

In the letter the psychologists explained that a traumatic event must end before you can begin to process and recover from it. Direct Provision causes trauma for individuals and families who sometimes spend years “trapped” in this system.  

“Our nation has a responsibility to protect those who come to Ireland to seek refuge from persecution, famine and war,” said the signatories, “people seek asylum to escape traumatic and unbearable situations.” 

People living in these centres struggle to find their basic needs met with a weekly allowance of €38.80, while parents are faced with an “immense challenge” to raise their children with a further allowance of €29.80 per child. 

According to the letter, children need space to play and learn, they also require physical and emotional safety to be able to reach their full potential. Meanwhile teenagers need a private space, which is often missing in these centres. 

Bulelani Mfaco, the leader of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) and a Direct Provision resident, explains that this system “eats away at your humanity”. 

In a speech made in 2019Mfaco explains how asylum seekers want to be part of the community and have friends and acquaintances, however the weekly allowance given makes socialising “impossible”.  

“We all want to belong,” says Mfaco, however belonging is very restricted as an asylum seeker.

He feels that citizenship and immigration laws create borders, “as if to remind us that this is not our home. Therefore, we will be kept in Direct Provision, on the margins of Irish society because this is not our home.” 

Mfaco is a gay man who had no choice but to share a room in Direct Provision with a homophobic man. He expressed his surprise that our former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar can ignore what LGBT+ asylum seekers have to endure, being a member of the community himself. 

He claims that Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney do not want asylum seekers to demand human rights, to instead “accept the dehumanising treatment that comes with institutionalising free people.” 

Mfaco explains how he met children “deprived” of nappies, clothes and baby formula and adults who didn’t know how to access needed services such as solicitors, doctors, psychologists and medication, which is a breach of EU law.

The Irish government have a legal and moral obligation to ensure asylum seekers have access to such services. 

He goes on to explain how he has met many survivors of degrading treatment who were not receiving psychological support.

The EU Directive on Reception Conditions for asylum seekers requires Ireland to provide psychological supports for survivors of sexual violence, torture and other inhumane treatments. 

The MASI propose that asylum seekers should have a maximum stay of 90 days in Reception Centres that are located near major cities and towns, before being assisted into housing in the local community.

Reception Centres must offer full support and services, for example translators and people who can assist in making their application for international protection. 

They also propose that these Reception Centres should have an official to process PPS cards so the asylum seeker can apply for their medical card and access healthcare, as well as claim their “petty” weekly allowance.

Mfaco said that the government should be working towards investing substantial resources in living conditions and the asylum process, “we have emergency Direct Provision centres today with appalling conditions because of poor planning on the part of the government.” 

The PSC Ireland are dedicated in applying psychology to political and policy change. As psychologists, they see the struggles of these individuals and feel they must advocate for social justice. 

“As a country we must do better,” the 150 signatories said, “we are aware of the suffering of those who live in Direct Provision and we stand with them in demanding change.” 

Emily Clarke

Image Credit: davidmcwilliams.ie