DIRECT PROVISION: A SYSTEM UNFIT FOR A CRISIS

As of Thursday 1st April 2020, over 850 experts and practitioners spanning a variety of fields across Ireland have signed an open letter to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, calling for adequate action from the State to protect the individuals living in Direct Provision from COVID-19[1]. The letter expresses concern about the State response and highlights the flaws in our system for housing international protection applicants that are placing the health of one of the most vulnerable groups of people in our society at risk.

A vast majority of international protection applicants currently residing in Direct Provision are required to share communal sleeping areas, sanitary and eating/food preparation facilities. The HSE has advised that individuals with long-term medical conditions, those who are immunocompromised and those over the age of 60 practice self-isolation or ‘cocooning’[2].

According to a report by the Irish Times, it is suspected that approximately 20% of international protection applicants have a pre-existing medical condition[3].  The recommendations on the HSE websites specifically advise to “avoid communal sleeping areas” and “crowded places”. Due to their living conditions and a lack of facilities, many individuals in Direct Provision are unable to follow HSE guidelines and are therefore at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The Department of Justice and Equality have announced that “off-site isolation facilities” are currently being piloted to combat any potential outbreak of COVID-19 within Direct Provision.[4] However, the Department has not yet clarified if individuals required to reside in these facilities will be guaranteed their place in their original centre upon recovery. This new measure coincides with the opening of new Direct Provision centres in Tullamore, Cahersiveen and Rosslare.

These new centres have the same communal setting already seen in established centres and our office has received numerous complaints from international protection applicants regarding overcrowding and their ability to self-isolate. We at KOD Lyons have already made direct representations to the International Protection Accommodation Services expressing our grave concern for a number of our immune-compromised and vulnerable clients.

The current outbreak of COVID-19 in Ireland has unsurprisingly exposed Direct Provision as being ill-equipped to deal with a crisis of this nature and we will be carefully monitoring the situation on behalf of our clients in the coming days and weeks.

Should you have a query or have been directly affected or are concerned by this situation please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Immigration Team at 01-6790780 or by emailing stephen.kirwan@kodlyons.ie.

[1]Open Letter to Government re. social distancing and direct provision”, 31 March 2020

(accessed at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ErM23muJ7nWuaMhFZ51yy8VzSSmKBdfwdeyfzVHLhvk/edit  1 April 2020)

[2] Health Service Executive, “At-risk groups”

(accessed at https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/at-risk-groups.html 1 April 2020)

[3] Sorcha Pollack, “Department announces Covid-19 self-isolation facility for asylum seekers” The Irish Times, 23 March 2020.

[4] Ibid 3