I heard my local Fine Gael TD, David Stanton, say on RTÉ’s Drivetime recently the single most Fine Gael thing I have ever in my life heard.
Stanton is Minister of State for Immigration and Integration.
“We encourage people to become self-sufficient,” he said, as – according to RTÉ – his department uses the refugee crisis as an excuse to evict asylum-seekers. Stanton was referring specifically to refugees who have been granted asylum status and are being asked to leave Direct Provision, but his comment would not offer much succour to anyone being turned out. It could be said this policy is this Government’s answer to the one question those of us who have visited and reported on Direct Provision centres never thought to ask.
Direct Provision centres are horrible places, and we’ve been warehousing asylum-seekers there since the turn of the century. The idea was we’d stick the people coming to Ireland seeking refuge in there for six months, give them a few bob in subsistence money and then either let them in (ha ha!) or turf them out.
Instead, of course, in a country which might as well change its name to ‘Unintended Consequences’, we’ve kept human beings shackled for years on end in a system of uncertainty and cruelty. Until now, we’ve forbade those in Direct Provision from working. That looks set to change, but what’s the betting we’ll find some new way to punish and isolate those coming here for asylum?
Direct Provision centres are uniformly awful places. They smell of stale air and hospital food and if you visit unannounced, you’ll be turned away on grounds of ‘privacy concerns’, from places where people are forced to share bedrooms with strangers.
Here’s the question we never thought to ask: What’s the one thing worse than being housed in cramped, grubby, completely-unsuitable, repurposed hotel rooms in Direct Provision centres while subsisting in misery and boredom on €21.60 a week?
The answer to that, it turns out is: ‘Being evicted from cramped, grubby, completely-unsuitable, repurposed hotel rooms in Direct Provision centres while not even subsisting in misery and boredom on €21.60 a week’.
The Department of Justice’s Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) is putting the screws on people in Direct Provision centres, issuing them with eviction notices, telling them to leave the Direct Provision centres that are their homes. They are also expected to tell Gardai of their change of address. Asylum-seekers have no right to social protection. So far, it seems that RIA is targeting single men, but it’s surely only a matter of time before families are next.
The claim is that they are only targeting asylum-seekers who have failed in their application for refugee status. Here’s the thing: every single person in Direct Provision who has received a response to their application has failed in that application. That’s the merry-go-round you’re on in Direct Provision. You fail, you re-apply, you fail, you re-apply. Eventually, like the bird sharpening its beak on the mountain, one or the other breaks – you break or the system does.
The system was initially supposed to take six months. In reality, it can take a decade or more. Your children could be born in Direct Provision and live their lives in uncertainty. (They might be Irish-born, but they’re not Irish. Oh no. Not since 2004, when 80% of a 60% turn-out voted for Michael McDowell’s referendum to deny automatic citizenship to babies born here. We enshrined that piece of nastiness in our Constitution as the 27th Amendment).
All the while you wait in Direct Provision, a deportation order hangs over your head. It’s often likened to Limbo, but another Christian concept applies too: Purgatory. If you can hold out, if you can stay sane, if you can survive despair, then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get your papers and be allowed to stay.
In the meantime, the lawyers get rich and the companies running Direct Provision centres – mostly offshore businesses which make damn-sure you can’t look at their books and which may or may not be donors to the larger political parties – get a staggering amount of taxpayers’ money – last year it was €64 million – to treat human beings no better than cattle.
Related: Who cares how asylum-seekers die?
Asylum-seekers are some of the most vulnerable people in the land. They have come here seeking refuge from war, from oppression, from want. We have warehoused them for years in misery and boredom and now we’ve decided we’re going to turf them out of Direct Provision because the centres are full and we’re very reluctantly taking in refugees from Syria and the Mediterranean. In an added cruelty, those we evict from Direct Provision will no longer get even €21.60 a week.
So people with no money, no legal status and no safe country to which to return, many of whom are victims of torture and sexual violence, will now be forced onto our streets in the middle of the worst homelessness crisis in the history of the State – n the name of ‘self-sufficiency’.
But it’s okay! If you volunteer to be deported, we’ll pay for your flight out of here. Presumably even if it’s back to a warzone or a country where your politics, your religion, your ethnicity, your gender or your sexuality mean you are marked for oppression or death.
On Drivetime, Mary Wilson threw a lovely Biblical allusion at Dave Stanton – a man I know personally and like – and it didn’t even phase him.
“No room at the inn, Minister?” she asked.
Imagine, though. Imagine the mentality you’d need to have to look at the refugee crisis and to see in it an opportunity to evict asylum-seekers. Imagine turning desperately vulnerable people, people without hope, without resources, without connections, out onto the streets at a time when 8,000 people are already homeless.
Fair play to Fine Gael though. In the years I’ve been visiting Direct Provision centres, it never crossed my mind that things could actually be made even worse for asylum-seekers in Ireland. I suppose I lack the imagination to look at people living in misery and think ‘How can I hurt these people some more?’
I guess that’s why I’m not a member of Fine Gael.