Sunday 19 November 2017

Scandal of illegal slave wages paid to refugees

Gardai investigate claims asylum seekers forced to work in sex trade

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

ASYLUM seekers are being exploited as cheap labour on the black market, working as cleaners in nightclubs and as childminders for under-the-counter cash payments.

Three women living in the country's biggest direct provision centre have revealed how residents are recruited directly from the centre for cleaning contractors who provide toilet attendants to nightclubs, and that the only form of payment is the tips they get from customers.

The revelation comes as the Department of Justice this weekend confirmed gardai are investigating claims that women asylum seekers are being forced into prostitution.

A spokesman told the Sunday Independent: "As prostitution is a criminal activity, the Reception and Integration Agency [the body that runs 'direct provision'] is requesting a report on the matter from the Garda Commissioner."

He also said allegations raised by this newspaper that asylum seekers are working at black market jobs is also a matter for gardai and the National Employment Rights Authority.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work while their applications are being processed. They live on an allowance of €19 a week in prescribed accommodation centres, in some cases for more than a decade.

However, a number of women living in the Mosney direct provision centre have told how some residents are regularly illegally targeted for cheap labour.

One woman told the Sunday Independent: "A man makes a contract with the nightclub and then goes around (looking) for people to clean. It is everywhere. It is in every hostel. Cleaning toilets in nightclubs, that is the worst."

She said the asylum seekers are not usually paid wages, but have to rely on the tips they receive from customers. "If you are not tipped, you are not paid," she said.

Although they are not allowed to work, the women said they have all worked at black market jobs to supplement the €19 a week.

Two of the three women have worked as childminders in the community for €20 a day. One of them said she was paid €80 in cash for childminding for seven days, and on another occasion, earned €50 for working 12-hour shifts in a restaurant.

They were speaking out on foot of revelations earlier this month that some women held at accommodation centres for asylum seekers are being forced to prostitute themselves for money in order to get by.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald this weekend said she was shocked by the claims and warned against stigmatising "vulnerable group of women" living in the direct provision system. The Reception and Integration Agency is due to report back to the minister on the allegations later this month.

Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, said: "We are quite aware that it is going on, the underground economy is happening and that is a factor of the deprivation. It is something we have been highlighting for years."

The right to work of people seeking asylum here is one of the issues being reviewed by a working group due to report to the Justice Minister. The group is examining the rules in the UK, where work permits are granted to asylum seekers who have been waiting more than 12 months for a decision on their application, through no fault of their own.

The Junior Justice Minister, Aodhan O'Riordan, has said he can't stand over the Irish direct provision system. Legislation to speed up decision making on refugee status is due to be enacted next year.

The long delays in the system have raised serious humanitarian concerns for the individuals and families waiting for decisions.

The three women who spoke to the Sunday Independent have been each been waiting for seven to nine years for their asylum applications to be processed, having come here in their early 20s.

They say their children cannot participate in school activities, such as school tours, music lessons and other extra-curricular classes, even though they can cost as little as €3 per class.

"How are you supposed to survive? We are not looking for handouts," she said. "The Government is playing a big role in protecting us. But we want to develop, we want to grow, we want to contribute. We don't want to be isolated out there."

Asylum seekers are becoming increasingly vocal about the long-term problems they endure while living in what is effectively temporary accommodation, because of delays the asylum system.

Residents have staged protests in five direct provision centres. Around 88 residents in the Ashbourne House Hotel direct provision centre have staged a hunger strike to highlight the "inhumane" conditions.

Sunday Independent

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