Monday 18 February 2019

Asylum seekers call off hunger strike

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

ASYLUM seekers living in an remote former hotel called off a hunger strike yesterday which they had undertaken to highlight their claims of bullying and racism.

Members of about 70 families staying at the asylum centre in the old Montague Hotel, in Emo, Co Laois, refused to eat all day on Monday. But they suspended their strike yesterday after crisis talks were promised for next Wednesday between the centre's managers, the Irish Refugee Council (IRC), and Laois-Offaly Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan.

"There's racism here between the Eastern Europeans and the black people. They say it to our faces and nothing is being done about it," said one resident, who asked not to be named.

Six men and about 200 women and children of more than 20 different nationalities are living at the accommodation centre, six miles from Portlaoise. Cultural and religious differences between the residents are causing problems, according to some of the asylum seekers.

A number of African asylum seekers have also claimed they have been subjected to racist taunts. "The management don't care. They just threaten us with deportation whenever we complain," said the resident.

Bullying

Two residents told the Irish Independent they were being bullied at the centre. Another complained of a lack of privacy.

"They just come into our rooms to do checks. One lady was in the bath when someone just walked into her room. We understand they have the right to search our rooms, but we have no privacy."

Another resident said: "Where we come from, we've been tortured and psychologically destroyed. That's what we ran from, but look at what we've come to now."

Last night, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said a team was being sent to the centre to investigate.

Mr Flanagan, the local TD, went to the asylum centre yesterday and listened to the residents' complaints. Afterwards he said managers at the centre had recognised the "serious" nature of some of the allegations made against them and had "indicated their willingness to ensure that best practice is honoured".

He said: "Notwithstanding the serious nature of the complaints, I'd be hopeful a lot of common ground can be reached."

Yesterday, management at the centre refused to comment.

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