Deaf ear is turned to asylum system alarm

When one of the red lights on a car dashboard starts flashing, any sensible person will stop and check the owner’s manual. If the alarm signals something less than critical, many of us will press on, hoping against hope that whatever needs fixing can wait. Sometimes, we get away with that; sometimes, we don’t. What might have been a minor problem escalates to something significant and often eye-wateringly expensive.

It there was a red light linked to our direct provision system, it would be flashing so brightly, so persistently, that it would be impossible to ignore. Direct provision is how we look after those who arrive here and ask for asylum. There are approximately 6,000 people, including over 1,500 children, living in almost 40 centres around Ireland. The litany of concern grows.

Late last year, the ombudsman had received 84 formal complaints from those living in direct provision. Of those, 49 related to the Department of Justice’s Reception and Integration Agency, which administers State-provided accommodation. Due to the lengthy application and appeals process, families and single people can live for years in one of these centres. They do so on the most basic kind of weekly income — €38.80 for adults, €29.80 for children. Calls to end the system have intensified, as it requires almost unlimited optimism not to see it as a deliberate, nod-and-a-wink disincentive to those who might seek refuge here.

In some instances, opposition to the establishment of centres has intensified, too. The Shannon Key West hotel, in Rooskey, on the Leitrim/Roscommon border, was to host 80 people before it was the target of a fire attack. Just before Christmas, a Donegal hotel earmarked for asylum seekers was similarly attacked. That Moville attack gave our better angels a chance to step forward and the town held a rally to let the world know that asylum seekers were welcome.

In another incident, the Department of Justice is examining the circumstances around the death of an asylum seeker early this week. The body of a man, understood to have been from Eritrea, was found near the Hazel Hotel, in Monasterevin, on Tuesday morning. He had been living at the centre for more than six months.

This week, asylum seekers at the Clonakilty Lodge direct provision centre held a protest, because they claim they were not told of a visit on Monday by the Minister of State for Equality, Immigration, and Integration, David Stanton. This may not seem a critical issue, but it is symptomatic of poor relationships undermined by mistrust.

It is unlikely that any of the 28,300 Irish nationals who emigrated from Ireland in the year to April 2018 have sought asylum in the country they moved to. Had they, and had they been afforded the welcome we offer asylum seekers here, the outrage needle would quickly reach the red zone.

We seem uncomfortable with, if not unequal to, this challenge. That is not tenable, as immigration, driven by poverty, violence or, more and more, climate change, will only increase during the coming years and we need to prepare properly before a scandal becomes a crisis.

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