Sunday 22 October 2017

'It's like being a caged animal, we have no freedom' - Inside look at family life in Direct Provision

If you're living in Direct Provision or have a story about Direct Provision in Ireland feel free to contact me at cdevine@independent.ie

MOSNEY: Many of the residents have been at the refugee centre in Co Meath for over nine years
MOSNEY: Many of the residents have been at the refugee centre in Co Meath for over nine years
Joe Odidoh
Joe Odidoh, from Nigeria, has been living in Direct Provision in Dundalk, Co Drogheda for the past year.
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

A mother-of-four living in Direct Provision in Ireland has shared her harrowing story of how she yearns for some freedom and how her four kids all share one room.

*Aisha (29) told Independent.ie that she fled Nigeria three years ago for security reasons and came to Ireland.

"I have been living in a Direct Provision centre for three years. I have been in Mosney accommodation in Co Meath for the past year and it has a mixture of good and bad things."

Aisha said that she is grateful for the security in Ireland and that her kids have a place to sleep and can go to school.

However, the healthcare assistant said she is refused access to third level education and would have loved to have become a doctor in Ireland.

"We are refused right to access to third level education. We are refused to drive a car, to earn any form of income or work, to own a washing machine.

"We can't have visitors in our house, we can't have pets.

"We can't lock our doors, they have the keys anyway and can open your door at will.

"We can't stay outside the centre for days without reporting ourselves."

Aisha said that her dreams are to be able to work as a doctor and to "live peacefully" with her family.

"Mosney is ok, but we don't have a lot of freedom. We don't have wifi so we all came together and said we would get one but the management refused."

She added that she is watched "24-7 by strict security men" but when she asked for help when her son was being bullied, she was told they had no power.

"Everything is scheduled and controlled. We are given a time to wash our clothes, three days a week. If you did not take your clothes from the laundry you will be punished with one day taken out of your wash week.

"Saturday mornings are set aside to wash school uniforms, but your laundry bag is searched to make sure you have nothing but uniforms if anything other than school uniforms is seen  it will be taken out and you become a suspect.

Aisha and her husband take turns with the kids doing their homework but Aisha says that there are no after-school activities for her young kids.

"My kids get sad because most times I can't afford some things for them. Like soccer boots, a game box and bikes."

The mum-of-four added that it was hard adjusting to like in Ireland as she sometimes feels like a criminal.

"Yes it was hard adjusting, especially with the feeling of being unwanted and seen as a sponge, criminal, or useless."

Joe Odidoh, from Nigeria, has been living in Direct Provision in Dundalk, Co Drogheda for the past year.

"I am in one of the best centres as mine is self-catering. It is not as bad as some of the other centres I have seen.

Joe1dp.jpg
Joe Odidoh, from Nigeria, has been living in Direct Provision in Dundalk, Co Drogheda for the past year.

"The Government should be commended for the conditions of the Direct Provision Centre in Dundalk but they have a lot more work to do to ensure the basic needs of other refugees in other centres."

Joe told Independent.ie that while he is lucky, his friends are living in "poor and deplorable" conditions.

Joe2dp.jpg
Joe Odidoh

"It is disheartening. It depends on people's situations which centre they are in. Me, I am lucky."

The artist and writer is currently writing another book based on Christianity.

"My intentions coming to Ireland were clear. I wanted to write a book."

Joe was involved in taking a court action against the Government calling for refugees to be allowed to work. However this case wasn't successful.

"Life is unfair. We should be able to work and make a living for ourselves.

joe3dp.jpg
Joe Odidoh

"In reality, people living in Direct Provision have no freedom. Adults and children are confined to one room. These are vulnerable people who had to flee their homes for safety. They have no privacy and have to eat whatever food is available whether they like it or not. It's like living in prison. They are caged like animals."

Joe said that many of his friends living in Direct Provision are left depressed and frustrated at the end of the day.

"Somebody can't just come to Ireland and have a clean state. They are degraded in Direct Provision centres. The system does not have a human heart."

The artist added that the biggest issue with the centres is the amount of time that people spend in them.

"It was supposed to be a temporary solution for refugees. By the time refugees were granted their papers they were supposed to have a house to live and be able to start their lives again. But instead people are living in Direct Provision for five, ten years. People can't escape the system. They are trapped in Direct Provision. Don't we have any rights?"

Jennifer DeWan from NASC Ireland, an organisation that supports immigrants in Ireland, told Independent.ie that "not much has changed" for families living in Direct Provision over the last few years.

"There have been some positive changes in that more private residences are being built but the progress is very slow.

"It's a very institutionalised life surrounded by enforced poverty.

"People are spending too long in the centres and are waiting years to be moved to a more permanent residence.

"Centres in Cork are particularly bad. There have been so many complaints and some of the centres are beyond hope of repair. The centres are very closed off from the public and media aren't very welcome inside the centres. It's less that they have something to hide but more that the don't want the focus on the centres."

Jennifer said that people are "miserable" in the centres and that some people are mistreated by staff.

"I'd like to see the Direct Provision centres move to more open apartments where people have their own space and privavcy. It's a basic need.

"I believe the government will look back at what they are doing now and regret how they treated people."

Earlier this year, a damning report into life inside Direct Provision centres revealed that children suffer from "creepy" advances from older men and that they feel "unsafe" and "unhappy" in their overcrowded conditions.

The report which was carried out by researchers at University College Cork on behalf of the Government, showed that children also have concerns relating to their food and relationships with "mean" staff.

The report found that children are "unhappy" about the length of their stays in the system with a number of children saying they have lived in the system since they were born.

Many also feel they are stigmatised because of where they live, in addition to suffering from racism.

Some of the complaints were about the standard of accommodation, food and the length of time they had to stay in the system.

Children also said they did not feel safe when sharing space with single men, and described their living conditions as "overcrowded" and "dirty".

"There are loads of men bothering us,” said one child, while another commented: “There is so many men, and . . . they look creepy at you.”

These are among the findings of a Government consultation with 110 children, aged between eight and 17, living in 11 direct provision centres across the State.

Of the 4,786 residents of direct provision in May this year, some 1,230, or 25 per cent, were 17 years or younger. Of these, 1,042 were aged 12 or younger.

The report was welcomed by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan who said hearing the voices of children will help direct policy.

“This report is an important contribution to our policy development in this area and the stories of children and young people living in State-provided accommodation continue to contribute to the ongoing improvements in services in accommodation centres,” the minister said.

In a statement to Independent.ie, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that "there is no requirement on any person to reside in or to continue to reside in State provided Accommodation".

"Approximately half of all asylum applicants do not reside at such centres. There is a number of people granted status who, when facing the challenges of the current housing market, remain in Direct Provision despite being granted status and the right to work.

"Ireland does not detain asylum seekers. Direct provision is not about detention, it is not about disregarding human rights, it is not about treating those in the protection process any differently than those in the wider community. Since it was established in 2000 some 60,000 persons have been provided with full board accommodation and a range of ancillary services, plus a weekly cash payment for each adult and child by the State. Equally they have been provided with full access to the State’s medical and education services."

However the Department of Justice said "no system is without room for improvement".  Y

"The McMahon Report published in 2015 made 173 recommendations regarding the asylum process in particular with regard to the Direct Provision system. The third and final progress report on the implementation of the McMahon report was published on 17 July this year and indicated that 133 recommendations have been reported as fully implemented and a further 36 are in progress or partially implemented. This represents 98 per cent full or partial implementation."

In regards to the long periods in which people are living in Direct Provision, the Department of Justice said:

"The length of time that people remain in Direct Provision until they exhaust all their avenues of appeal and legal redress has significantly reduced, so that long stays are becoming a thing of the past. The new single application procedure will further enhance the decision making capacity bringing certainty of status at a much earlier stage."

*Names have been changed in this article to protect identities.

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