Covid-19 measures for asylum seekers described as 'shambolic'

Covid-19 measures for asylum seekers described as 'shambolic'
Bulelani Mfaco

Efforts to protect people in Direct Provision (DP) have been slammed as "shambolic" and failing to protect the vast majority of asylum seekers living in the system.

The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) was responding to plans by the Department of Justice to open three new self isolation facilities for people in DP by the end of the week in addition to one already operating in Dublin.

The Department said it has added 850 beds to the system in the last two weeks to facilitate social distancing and isolation where required.

However, Bulelani Mfaco of MASI said the measures only assist "an acute minority" of people in DP, namely elderly asylum seekers, healthcare workers and those with underlying health conditions while "ignoring everyone else in centres where observing social distancing is impossible".

"The response by the Department of Justice and Equality has been shambolic on Covid-19 in Direct Provision. Putting a sticker on the floor in a tiny kitchen shared by 19 men who also have to share bedrooms and use communal toilets does not give asylum seekers assurance that they are protected," he said.

Mr Mfaco said if Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and immigration and integration minister David Stanton were serious about protecting asylum seekers, MASI would not be to persuade the Government to provide self-contained units for single people and families in DP.

"The unwillingness to do so is a clear demonstration of their carelessness. Any public health expert who tells you that it is okay for asylum seekers to share bedrooms, toilets, showers, kitchens and congregate in canteens if you put posters on the walls and stickers on the floor, in response to this contagious disease, is an expert in name only," he said.

The Department has said all measures implemented across the DP system are guided by the HSE and the National Public Health Emergency Team.

    The latest restrictions in operation since Friday, March 27 mandate that everyone should stay at home, only leaving to:
  • Shop for essential food and household goods;
  • Attend medical appointments, collect medicine or other health products;
  • Care for children, older people or other vulnerable people - this excludes social family visits;
  • Exercise outdoors - within 2kms of your home and only with members of your own household, keeping 2 metres distance between you and other people
  • Travel to work if you provide an essential service - be sure to practice social distancing

The Irish Association of Social Worker (IASW) has already expressed concerns that clusters of infection will emerge in DP centres in the same way that they have in nursing homes.

MASI has said it is gravely concerned about the situation in many DP centres where parents have had to keep children in their bedrooms for weeks as every other space in the centre is communal. 

The group said that asylum seeking parents in Temple Direct Provision centre in Moate, Westmeath have raised concerns about their children’s wellbeing and the risks associated with having to share a kitchen with dozens of people.

Last week, an open letter to the Government signed by more than 920 prominent lawyers, doctors, public health officials and academics claimed that the State may be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights unless it provides own-door accommodation to people living in DP.

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