Friday 22 February 2019

Justice officials to meet asylum protesters

Francois Fepessi with his wife Adrienne Nganmo and baby son Simon. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Francois Fepessi with his wife Adrienne Nganmo and baby son Simon. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Tom Brady and Eoghan McConnell

Asylum seekers called off a barricade protest inside their direct provision centre after Department of Justice officials agreed to meet them to hear their demands.

Some of the 160 residents at the former Montague Hotel, outside Portlaoise, Co Laois staged a sit-in demonstration and refused to allow staff into the centre yesterday.

It was the latest in a series of protests by asylum seekers at accommodation centres around the country in support of their demands to be given citizenship, granted the right to work and allocated houses.

Some of the protests have included food boycotts, and the Irish Independent reported yesterday that in one centre, adult asylum seekers ordered two children to hand back their lunches to the canteen before boarding their school bus.

Children at the Montague Hotel were unable to go to school yesterday because of the protest there.

Officials reckoned that about 20 of the 160 residents took part in the demonstration, which started around 7am when they barricaded the front door and also blocked the fire doors.

Staff were unable to gain access to the centre and had to remain outside while they contacted the gardai, who alerted the owner of the centre.

The owner spoke to the protesters and after three hours it was agreed to call off the barricade when a meeting was arranged with department officials.

That meeting is due to take place on Tuesday, when the residents there will highlight their grievances and their demands to be granted asylum.

A similar number of residents began refusing food on Monday, but most of them called off that protest by Wednesday, according to officials. Despite the complaints about the direct provision scheme here, there has been a huge surge in the number of asylum applications recently.

Figures show a 40pc increase in applications since January, compared with the first eight months of last year, up from 607 to 854.

And last July's monthly total of 131 was the highest since January 2011 and last month was the second highest (126).

A number of other EU countries operate a similar direct provision scheme to Ireland - but others hold their asylum seekers in special detention centres.

'We are worse off than prisoners'

RESIDENTS at the Montague Hotel have complained about the monotony of life for asylum seekers and said that they were worse off than prisoners.

Sheila Bulemba, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been in the Montague centre for six years.

She said: "We are tired of this system, they are keeping us here for a long time".

Another six-year resident likened the process to prison. "Prison life is better that this, because a prisoner knows they will get out. "They will spend five years in prison and they will be released. I don't know when I will come out of this place."

Married father-of-one Francois Fepessi from Cameroon arrived 11 years ago and claims to have stayed in as many as 10 hostels during his time in Ireland. "I came here I was 36, now I am 47," Mr Frepessi said.

The qualified air-conditioning technician said he could not understand why his application was not processed. "I am ready to work, they don't give me papers, why?" he asked as he stood next to his wife Adrienne Nganmo, cradling their six-week-old baby Simon. Mr Fepessi stills remains hopeful that he might be granted asylum.

Portlaoise priest Father Paddy Byrne called direct provision a terrible injustice. He said it was envisaged they would hold people for six months rather than five years or more.

Eoghan McConnell

Irish Independent

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