4th August 2020

Coronavirus, Direct Provision and Homelessness

Coronavirus Direct Provision and Homelessness

As the spread of Coronavirus continues, asylum seekers in direct provision centres, families in emergency accommodation and the homeless people on the streets will have a higher risk of becoming ill.

The Irish Government is not responsible for the Coronavirus outbreak – how they will respond to it is still to be seen as the crisis is escalating – but the same is not true for direct provision system and the homelessness in this country.  Unlike Coronavirus, the latter two have been carefully crafted by the Irish governments of the past 20 years. Homelessness and direct provision system have created a cruel and parallel world of inequality, not just during normal times but at times of massive crises.

Homeless people in shelters or out on the streets are already facing health issues. For many, a system of self-isolation and proper care is simply not possible. Families in emergency-hotel accommodation cannot arrange their lives as people living in their homes. Asylum seekers in direct provision centres simply don’t have the facilities and physical conditions for self-isolation. Because many of these centres operate an institutionalized living model, many people have no control or choice over their lives.

Indeed Coronavirus is not the making of the Irish Government but the homelessness crisis and the brutality of the direct provision system have been direct results of intended policies. For over 10 years campaigners have been warning the Irish Governments about the out of control spiralling housing crisis. The builders and landlords in the Dáil couldn’t care less. The so called free housing market had to be 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 and private business driven, at the core 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 lucrative business for profits.

Self-isolation is fine; so long as you have a place to isolate yourself. In homeless shelters, in emergency accommodations and direct provision centres there is no privacy of a home. Many of these centres are not run by social/health-care staff but security companies and centre managers who have no interest in the lives of the residents.  These centres are not designed for proper community living where residents have the democratic control on how things are run.

To stop the spread of the virus, we are told not the gather in groups and keep a safe distance (social distancing). Most of the direct provision centres are places where people are forced to live in groups. Social distancing in many of these centres is not possible.

  • Residents in affected direct provision centres must be tested without any delays.
  • In the immediate period, all private operators of these centres must be hold 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.
  • The government must act immediately and provide asylum seekers safe accommodation in accordance with the health and safety procedures required against the spread of Coronavirus.
  • 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.
  • All deportation orders must be lifted. A deportation ‘amnesty’ should be declared. The cruelty of deportations destroy peoples’ lives. Today, there another reason for stopping deportations: It is a health risk like any other international travel.
  • All of us feel the anxiety and we fear for the lives of our loved ones. This crisis can also affect peoples’ mental health.

There are more than 5,600 people living in the country’s 39 DP centres. Of these, more than 1,700 are children. We cannot leave asylum seekers behind in tackling this crisis.

Coronavirus is spreading. It would not be surprising if suddenly migrants, refugees or asylum seekers get the racist blame for being sick. We mustn’t allow any racist scapegoating of our brothers and sisters.

One has to wonder, what is crazier, the Coronavirus or the logic by which our societies are organised. Planes are flying empty, burning millions of liters 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.

A vaccine may be found for the virus, but the system needs changing. Changing radically. From how we organise our health system and housing to how we open our borders and welcome asylum seekers.

As Fintan O’Toole wrote, “None of us is safe from virus unless all of us are safe.”

None of us is free from inequality unless all of us are free.

Update: Shortly after writing this article the news of confirmed Coronavirus cases in one of the Direct Provision Centres broke. Asylum seekers in Direct Provision are facing a very serious risk and the government must act now. This is a not only an issue for asylum seekers but also for all of us.

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