Residents of the Lissywollen Accommodation Centre outside Athlone stopped turning up for meals on Wednesday and say their strike will continue until their demands are met.
They are the second group of asylum seekers to refuse food in an attempt to highlight grievances in the last few weeks. Last month residents at the Mount Trenchard centre in Limerick also went on hunger strike for a time.
Complaints about the Athlone facility centre on the quality, variety and sufficiency of food; availability of laundry facilities and repairs to the mobile homes. Almost 300 people, more than half of whom are children, live in the centre which is owned by the State with management contracted out to a private company. Some have been living there for over seven years waiting for asylum applications to be processed.
One resident who asked not to be named said 97% of the adults had commenced hunger strike in frustration with the way the facility was managed, and with the lack of response to a letter detailing all their concerns.
“When we didn’t come to collect the food, no-one even asked what the problem was. They are making food and nobody is eating it and they never came to ask us about it. They just think, we’re getting our money anyway so it makes no difference to us. They don’t care.”
That claim was rejected by the Department of Justice, which said issues inevitably arose in accommodation centres, particularly one the size of the Athlone facility, but management and residents there had always cooperated to resolve them.
“In this case, it is critical to note that there have been several engagements between management in the centre and the residents’ committee since the letter referred to in the question was received. The implication that the matter was ignored is entirely wrong.”
The department said menus had been changed and complaints about school lunches had been addressed. It added: “Other measures were also introduced concerning washing machine detergents, cleaning materials, provision of sugar and tea bags and so on.”