Wednesday 26 November 2014

Victims of torture endure wait for treatment

Published 21/08/2014 | 02:30

Frances Fitzgerald
Frances Fitzgerald

Asylum seekers in Ireland, who are victims of torture, are now waiting up to three months for psychological treatment as demand for the service increases and funding is cut, it has emerged.

Although all asylum seekers who opt to live in state-provided direct provision accommodation are entitled to a medical card, they are subject to the same waiting lists for specialist care as the general population.

Greg Straton, director of the publicly-funded organisation SPIRASI in Dublin, which provides medical and psychological treatment to many asylum seekers in direct provision, said the rise in the numbers seeking refuge here is putting pressure on services.

The service's one-month waiting list has now increased to three months, he said. It can be a gruelling wait for people who have been extremely traumatised in their home country and are now going through the demanding asylum process.

"They may have been traumatised again during the journey here through having to travel in a container or be involved in human trafficking," he told the Irish Independent.

"One of the most difficult problems people face when they may be seeing a doctor is getting interpreters."

Around 80pc of our clients have no English, he explained. "We have an active case load of 500 to 600 a year. While we always provide interpreters, in many other areas it is a 
huge difficulty," he said.

"Getting understood 
can be a huge 
barrier."

Some centres have GPs attached to them, while others rely on doctors in the community who may not always know where to refer an asylum seeker, said Mr Straton.

He also said that asylum seekers, who spend their first six weeks at the Balseskin Reception Centre in Dublin, can undergo a medical assessment but their file may not be sent to the direct provision centre they are later sent to.

"It means that problems are picked up but may not be followed up."

Around 90pc of asylum seekers here opt for direct provision and those who do not are not entitled to a medical card.

The numbers of asylum seekers here are now 
rising again after once reaching a population high of 11,000.

There are currently around 4,000 in direct-provision centres and 1000 are expected to apply to stay here this year.

The Department of Justice, which runs the centres, said it has no role in the medical treatment of asylum seekers.

On arrival they are assessed but medical issues are a matter for the individual and the HSE, it stated.

Irish Independent

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