At least one person has tested positive in one of Ireland’s Direct Provision Centres where the self-isolation is impossible. Anti-racism campaigner Memet Uludag insists action must be taken now to protect those in centres and on the streets.
As the spread of Coronavirus continues, asylum seekers in direct provision centres, families in emergency accommodation, and the homeless on the streets are at much higher risk of becoming ill.
While the Irish Government is not responsible for the Coronavirus outbreak, the same cannot be said for the direct provision system, nor the homelessness crisis in this country, which have been carefully created over 20 years. During that time, campaigners have been warning the Irish Government about the out of control spiralling housing crisis. The big developers and landlords in the Dáil couldn’t care less. The so-called free housing market has been protected against the needs of ordinary people.
Direct provision grew from a temporary project to a well established monster. It became the main feature of a legally very complex, bureaucratically and politically non-transparent, commercially profitable private business driven, at the core by an inhumane and institutionally racist asylum system in Ireland. Today, with almost 40 centres and a dozen private companies running these centres, direct provision is a very lucrative business.
The privilege of isolation
In these centres, as in homeless shelters and emergency accommodations, there isn’t the same privacy afforded to those of us with a home. Most are not run by social or health-care staff but security companies and centre managers who have no interest in the lives of the residents. They are not designed for proper community living, where residents have democratic control of how things are run.
Families in emergency-hotel accommodation cannot arrange their lives as people living in their homes. They do not have the space to withdraw from others, and nor do asylum seekers in direct provision centres have the facilities and physical conditions for it, and who are often forced to live in groups. Self-isolation is burdensome and frustrating as it is, but for those without a home, it is not an option. The only means we have to stop the spread of this virus and protect ourselves from getting it is not an option for those one the margins of society who have had to struggle with myriad other issues. Now, they must face this virus unprotected because of conditions manufactured by the Irish government.
And what are the government going to do about it? Very little without sustained pressure, that’s one thing we can guarantee for sure.
In the immediate period, all private operators of these centres must be held responsible for the health and safety of the residents. All of the operators must provide a Coronavirus action and protection plan. Failing to do so, their licences must be revoked and the state must take control of these centres. And residents in affected direct provision centres must be tested without any delay.
The government must act immediately to provide asylum seekers with safe accommodation in accordance with the health and safety procedures required against the spread of Coronavirus. If that means requisitioning private hotels and empty apartments – so be it.
All deportation orders must be lifted. A deportation ‘amnesty’ should be declared. The cruelty of deportations destroys peoples’ lives ordinarily. Today, it is also a health risk. International travel is being blocked internationally to stop the spread of Covid-19. There is no justifiable reason to continue to deport people.
Beyond the spread of the virus, there are other factors relating to Covid-19, homelessness and direct provision.
Undoubtedly, every one of us has been impacted by anxiety and fear for the lives of our loved ones during this crisis. It has had a very detrimental impact on peoples’ mental health. There are more than 5,600 people living in Ireland’s 39 Direct Provision centres. Of these, more than 1,700 are children. We cannot leave asylum seekers behind in tackling this crisis, nor the 10,000 homeless, those in the North in detention centres or on the street and in hostels while waiting on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive waiting lists.
This crisis will be of even more concern for those people who cannot protect themselves. Much is made, and rightly so, of the need to protect people with underlying health conditions, but we cannot forget those who are vulnerable in another way – because they find themselves put to the fringes of society.
Coronavirus is spreading. It would not be surprising if suddenly migrants, refugees or asylum seekers get the racist blame for being sick. We have already seen how Travellers have been accused of refusing to self isolate, when their means to do so are much more restricted. When Brid Smith’s amendment was won in the Dáil to ensure travellers are not evicted, it was met with a wave of stereotypical bile. We mustn’t allow any racist scapegoating of our brothers and sisters.
Communities have started coming together in solidarity and people are trying to help each other in different ways. This solidarity should be extended to direct provision centres.
One has to wonder which is crazier, the sudden crisis of Coronavirus, or the logic by which our society is organised which actively prevents many vulnerable people from protecting themselves from the crisis.
Planes are flying empty of people, burning millions of litres of fuel for airlines to keep their slots in flight schedules. Supermarkets are hiking up the prices of sanitary products, almost to extortion levels. Racists are targeting Asian people, blaming them for Coronavirus. Some of the richest countries are facing hospital shortages of health facilities like ventilators and testing kits which are produced in those countries for profit – Ireland being one of those countries!
A vaccine may be found for the virus, and our global population able to recover. But the system will not recover. The system needs changing radically. From how we organise our health system and housing to how we open our borders and welcome asylum seekers.
Never again should Irish capitalists and politicians be allowed to create the kind of homeless crisis which faces us, as Air BnB’s spring up aplenty, but people are squeezed more tightly into smaller and shared accommodation. Now is the time to champion demands like requisition of those Air BnB’s to house the vulnerable. The same goes for empty hotels. Our health must be put before private profit.
As Fintan O’Toole wrote, “None of us is safe from this virus unless all of us are safe.” None of us is free from inequality unless all of us are free.
This is not only an issue for asylum seekers or the homeless, but also for all of us.