'Vulnerable' asylum seekers identified by Department of Justice, as NGOs warn of tensions over Covid-19

'Vulnerable' asylum seekers identified by Department of Justice, as NGOs warn of tensions over Covid-19
The Department of Justice said that while the immigration service continues to work, the 'matter' is “under constant review

Vulnerable people with underlying health conditions are being assessed in direct provision centres, as the Department of Justice takes measures to reduce overcrowding during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) has warned “tensions are still high” over the department’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Positive cases of the virus, and people showing strong symptoms of Covid-19, have already occurred in centres in a number of counties, health sources confirmed last week, and isolation facilities were said to be already “at capacity” in one of the largest centres in Dublin.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Department of Justice’s International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) have asked centres and NGOs working with asylum seekers to assist them in identifying vulnerable people and people over 65 years of age – rather than 70- who should be cocooned.

Some 650 additional beds have been secured in hotels in Dublin, Cork Galway to take pressure off existing centres accommodating over 7,200 people, including over 2,000 children, seeking asylum.

A number of regional “off-site” self isolation facilities are also being rolled out - to complement the first such unit provided by the HSE with support from the Peter McVerry Trust in Dublin.

A number of residents holding the right to work are employed in the health care sector, while some residents granted asylum had not been able to move out due to the housing crisis.

MASI spokesman Bulelani Mfaco has questioned why IPAS is moving people to hotels in Dublin, Cork and Galway where they are still sharing rooms.

“Double rooms in a hotel where there is already limited scope for movement is not physical distancing,” Mr Mfaco said.

He said a letter sent to families in some centres asking them to nominate a person to mind their children if they are sent to hospital during the pandemic was also causing stress as “they don’t know anyone they would trust to look after their kids."

Mr Mfaco also said that health checklists distributed by management in some centres to identify vulnerable people do not comply with general data protection regulations (GDPR).

However, the Department of Justice said that the HSE has set up a dedicated email address where residents can disclose serious medical illnesses directly “in confidence” to a clinician.

It also said that people transferred to hotels who have an identified age or medical condition or are in self isolation “will have their own bedroom and bathroom to facilitate cocooning”.

Cork-based NGO Bridge to Resources, Integration and Justice (BRIJ) has welcomed the provision of 650 extra beds as a first step, but has asked that this been “extended as quickly as possible”, and that “the necessary supports be put in place” for people with limited English and restricted access to existing medical and legal supports.

Brij chairwoman Deirdre Martin has also called on the Department of Justice to “pause” all deportation orders until the Covid-19 crisis is over.

“This is a very anxious time for all of us but it is particularly stressful for asylum seekers who are awaiting a decision in relation to their status,” Ms Martin said.

“Imagine being confined to your room and worrying that you might be served with a deportation order any day,” she said.

“There is a very limited time in order to appeal a deportation order and with the situation the country is in it would be very difficult to cope,”she said.

The Department of Justice said that while the immigration service continues to work, the “matter” is “under constant review and pragmatic and sensitive decisions will be made where required”.

“This approach applies to the deportation process in general, including deportations/removals from the State," it said.

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