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The campaigner end institutional living campaign

Wednesday, 17th April, 2013 12:11pm

“People think we are here to just take from them, but I want to give back. I wish people knew what life is like for us really, I think they would look at me differently.”

The man who said this to me had been living as an asylum seeker in Ireland for 5 years, and still didn't know what would happen to him. What strikes me the most when talking to people like him is the fear. Fear of deportations if they speak up for themselves and fear that their children will become lost and hopeless. There has been a lot of concern recently for those who have lived and are living in State institutions, including asylum seekers. This recent spotlight is welcome but this is not a new issue. Since 2000, asylum seekers having been placed in institutional centres under what is called the 'Direct Provision system'. Direct Provision means that on applying for asylum in Ireland, people are sent to one of 35 accommodation centres around the country until a decision is made on whether they will be granted refugee status or subsidiary protection. The majority of people wait 3-7 years for this.

People are housed in private centres, run on a for-profit basis.   The estimated value of the contracts from 2000 - 2010 was €655 million. One of the issues being raised is how such a large amount of money could be paid out to private contractors yet asylum seekers themselves are often living in poverty, or at risk of it. They receive €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child a week to cover anything outside of basic needs. One lady based in Cork told me she hates collecting even this small amount of money because people look at her as though she is 'sponging', though what she does get never covers what she needs for her two children. She is also not legally entitled to work, as Ireland is one of two countries in the EU which refuses to allow asylum seekers to support themselves through employment.

What is most worrying is the effect of all this on the approximately 1700 children in Direct Provision. Parents are not allowed to cook for their children. They often cannot afford for their children to participate in activities with their friends, or pay for their school books. The effects of living in accommodation and sharing facilities with strangers, up to 250 in some centres, is also a huge concern.

So what can we do? Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre is part of an alliance of NGOs, asylum seekers and community groups calling on people to take part in the 'End Institutional Living' campaign. 23 April is a national Day of Action, with events happening in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Tralee, Castlebar and Limerick. In Cork city, people are gathering at 5.30pm at Daunt Square on Patrick Street for a rally. Asylum seekers will address the rally as will Dr Joan Giller from Cork, who recently sparked a huge reaction with her letter to the Irish Times on conditions in Direct Provision.

The 'End Institutional Living' campaign believes that this institutional living needs to end and are wasteful of taxpayers' money. We need to pressure our government into taking action now and this is the first step.

Kate O'Sullivan is a Communications Intern with Nasc Irish Immigrant Support Centre, Cork. Nasc is an NGO working for an integrated society based on the principles of human rights, social justice and equality.

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