It’s time to close the direct provision system
2017-12-01 17:06:00 -

Ronit Lentin

On Saturday 11 November, a rally organised by United Against Racism heard moving speeches by several asylum seekers living the for-profit direct provision incarceration system, where men, women and children are held, in many cases as long as 10 years, as they await decisions on their applications for asylum. 


The Irish Times reported a woman named Mavis, who has lived in direct provision with her three children for 15 months, as saying: “For me every day is a struggle, to watch my children suffering and getting sick. I wish one day somebody, an Irish citizen would go into my life for one week and they would know what a hell it is. I don’t even have words. Waiting and waiting for a decision is one of the hardest things a mother can do. What can we do? We have to pray and hope.”


The rally was part of the campaign to close the direct provision system, end deportations and grant asylum seekers the right to work, as per the Supreme Court’s ruling this past summer. According to Lucky Khambule of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (Masi), the restrictions imposed by the Government on asylum seekers amount to a total denial of their rights.


Besides their bed and board – both of which are widely considered inappropriate and insufficient – asylum seekers are forced to exist on a weekly ‘comfort allowance’ of just €21.60, a paltry increase on the €19.10 that until last year had been unchanged since 2000. Their lives are decided by for-profit managements that dictate who shares their rooms, what and when they eat, who can visit, when they can do their washing and what facilities their children enjoy.


As I have written many times before, Ireland must close the direct provision system that racialises, dehumanises and segregates asylum seekers, whose plight Irish society manages ‘not to know’. This continues decades of disavowal, as Una Mullally wrote recently in The Irish Times: “The mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries were hiding in plain sight for years. We knew they existed, we knew – in broad brushstrokes – what went on there. Direct provision centres hide more successfully in our communities, towns and cities. Many of us are not aware of their locations. That makes their presence even more insidious. But we know that they’re there. We know this system exists. We can’t keep repeating the process of unjustly hiding people away. They are not less than. They are people just like us, with families and aspirations.”


Together with the current rise of racism and Islamophobia, asylum seekers are being targeted by many racial states. In Australia’s inhuman off-shore concentration camps, asylum seekers are reportedly deprived of water and food, and are suffering from cholera as the camps are being closed. Israel, too, is beginning to close its concentration camps in the south of the country, forcing asylum seekers to either be willingly deported to Rwanda – which is reportedly being paid $5,000 for each person it admits – or face indefinite jail. 


Ireland’s direct provision system, while not quite so deadly, condemns asylum seekers to a frozen existence where private operators such as the international catering company Aramark are paid millions of euro to maintain Ireland’s version of what African-American activist Angela Davis terms the ‘prison industrial complex’.


Besides the obvious benefits to the Irish economy of allowing asylum seekers to work, pay taxes and spend money, and besides the obvious human benefits to Irish society of their talents and enterprise, there is also the moral imperative of Ireland’s choice to close the dehumanising direct provision system, end all deportations, and use our newfound wealth to include asylum seekers in solving our appalling housing crisis. The time to act is now.

Dr Ronit Lentin is retired as associate professor of sociology at Trinity College Dublin.



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