Asylum-seeking and racial justice in Ireland

This is the first of a series of guest posts, ‘Forward with Feasta’, by Feasta intern Nadia Hansen. Here’s Nadia’s introduction:

“My name is Nadia Hansen and I’m currently completing my final semester at Carleton University located in Ottawa, Canada. I’m pursuing a Bachelor of Arts; majoring in Human Rights & Social Justice with a minor in Philosophy. I’m passionate about advocating for social justice on a global level which is why I’m very excited to be interning with Feasta. I hope to use my theoretical knowledge to form meaningful analyses of global affairs. My overall goal is to actively contribute in creating tangible social change no matter the profession I eventually land in.”

COVID-19 has had devastating implications around the world. It continues to infect millions and kill hundreds of thousands. It’s become a global emergency and countries around the world are scrambling to control its transmission.

The novel coronavirus has also helped in exacerbating the existing structural issues within societies everywhere. On top of this, there have been calls for racial justice around the globe as well. Police brutality in the U.S. has highlighted this issue and activists have been taking the opportunity to evaluate race relations within their own countries.

Within an Irish context, issues surrounding immigration and asylum have come into prominence. Asylum seekers that have been provided accommodation under the Direct Provision program have voiced their criticisms of the unsafe conditions they’ve been forced to live in. As COVID-19 spreads around Ireland, it is increasingly difficult for those seeking international protection to protect themselves from the virus as well.

Those living under the Direct Provision (DP) program are provided with free accommodation, food, access to healthcare and education, as well as a weekly allowance of 38 Euros. While these benefits are helpful on the surface, critical thinking enables us to see that there is a deeper and darker side to this program as well.

First of all, the weekly allowance is by no means a livable wage. Criticism caused the Irish government to change the law in allowing Direct Provision residents to work. However, food is provided by DP centers within a schedule that does not accommodate work and school schedules. This has led residents to sneak food and small cooking appliances in their rooms which is strictly not allowed. Socialization is rare due to the fact that the majority of DP centers are far away from towns and bus trips to the nearest ones are on a monthly basis. This does little to help familiarize them with Irish culture which makes their integration process even harder. Next, the accommodation provided often fluctuates and asylum seekers have no choice in where they are moved to or who they share rooms with. Residents cannot cook their own food and have no opportunity for privacy in most of the centers.

Prior to COVID-19, Ireland’s immigration system was already very flawed. Now, the crowded centers have been dealing with outbreaks and transmission is made easy due to the close proximity everyone lives within each other and the lack of personal protective equipment. Testing is not at the frequency it should be due to lack of resources and funding. Asylum seekers have no way to escape this therefore many are fearing for their lives. Should one contract the virus, they are usually located far away from hospitals which makes access to healthcare even more difficult.

Decisions on asylum applications can take months or up to years therefore those waiting for theirs are subject to a life where they possess no autonomy. The system is unpredictable therefore it’s difficult to establish any sort of relationships among those living under Direct Provision. These instances come together to create inhumane living conditions. Even when they do eventually receive a decision that grants them status within Ireland, they are seldom equipped to manage life on their own.

Another interesting factor to consider is that the costs for the program have exponentially been increasing however those living under this program have not seen any difference in the quality of life they receive. The costs have gone into the hundreds of millions yet the program remains extremely flawed. Yes, more asylum seekers are being accommodated, however it is imperative to evaluate the program by the ‘big picture’. And that picture is telling us that more people are being crowded into small spaces whilst a pandemic ravages on. DP is in need of a complete reformation, or better yet, complete abolishment and then creating a whole new program that spends wisely to create better living conditions and offers support after being granted asylum.

People seeking international protection are not guilty of any crime, yet the treatment they receive and living conditions are similar to the experience of an inmate in prison. Why are asylum seekers being punished for fleeing the dangerous conditions in their home countries? International law provides migrants with the right to request protection from other countries therefore that right should be provided efficiently and safely. In addition, these people should have adequate access to protective equipment and testing whilst a pandemic threatens their wellbeing. Combining these two situations makes for extremely dangerous living conditions and is a death sentence for many.

Those requesting international protection usually hail from African countries which causes one to question the reasons for immigration processes taking so long. This is an example of institutional racism. Why are people of color who are simply requesting protection expected to live in conditions that Irish citizens would never have to face. Over 90% of Irish citizens are white. POC asylum seekers are usually poor and the immigration system keeps them poor. They are not afforded the same opportunities to thrive as citizens. Ireland is not alone in having a flawed immigration process. Immigration processes around the world are in need of major reform. It is a system that continues to disenfranchise people of color which contributes to oppression on a global level.

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