Activist Evgeny Shtorn calls on the Irish State to take action towards ensuring the safety of people within Direct Provision amid concerns over coronavirus (COVID-19).
In recent weeks, the public have been instructed to follow a process of ‘social distancing’ so as to reduce the speed at which the coronavirus spreads. However, due to the overcrowding within Direct Provision centres, there are many who are speaking out that this practice cannot be maintained in these spaces.
Shtorn has now called for the immediate relocation of people aged 60 or over with preexisting conditions into isolated and protected spaces as a preventive measure.
Across Ireland, tourist destinations such as hotels, hostels, and B&B have numerous vacancies due to the restrictions placed upon travel routes worldwide, as Shtorn detailed in a conversation with GCN. He proposes that these could be ideal places for the relocation process, especially in spaces where hospitals and medical centres are nearby. It is his belief that this will benefit the health system towards diminishing future spread of coronavirus and lessen the density of people within Direct Provision living spaces.
Last year, RTÉ News reported that there are 6,355 people in Direct Provision according to figures from the Department of Justice. This was an increase from 6,106 in December 2018 and above the Government’s contracted capacity. Shtorn once described the system to GCN as, “I see a lot of young people who are really deteriorating there. They don’t do anything, they can’t study or work, they sleep all day or sit on their phones, they are not allowed to cook for themselves, or wash a dish even. They become completely degraded to just basic needs.”
In 2020, it was estimated that there are currently 5,686 people living in 39 Direct Provision centres across Ireland, with 1,739 individuals being children. The Irish Times reported that an outbreak in one of these locations would have a “potentially devastating impact.” Despite warnings from activists and campaigners, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar did not comment on any plan to address this during the announcement of a nationwide general shutdown.
Asylum seekers around the country will be queuing in canteens for dinner in a few minutes. Others queueing for stoves to prepare dinner in so called independent living centres Minister @CharlieFlanagan @davidstantontd @LeoVaradkar https://t.co/FW75NEgWbt
— MASI – Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (@masi_asylum) March 16, 2020
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has published guidance for vulnerable group settings, however, the advice is generalised and does not focus upon the particular challenges faced by the people living within the spaces. Health officials have recommended washing hands, isolating those who are at risk or feeling ill, and maintaining a clean environment. However, people kept in Direct Provision can only take some of these measures in reducing the spread of coronavirus as their living conditions are under strict external control, such as mealtimes and maintenance of the communal areas.
On March 12, Ireland went into a nationwide general shutdown, with numerous drop-in centres and counselling groups working remotely. This has placed a large strain upon freelance artists, activists, and independent businesses. For those living in Direct Provision, their precarious work situation may be jeopardised by this significant shift to everyday life.
The Irish Refugee Council physical offices have been closed, however, their advocacy and support services are still open. On Twitter, they posted, “Our advocacy and support services are open and ready to assist via phone, whats app, text and email. Questions and queries about the impact of Coronavirus on your protection application? Interview or deadline upcoming? Lost work? Accommodation issues? Trying to leave or re-enter Direct Provision? Worries or concerns? We will do our best to answer and assist.”
🚨Our physical office is closed but our advocacy and support services are open and ready to assist. 🚨
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We are also supporting a network of organisations assisting people in the protection process. DM for info.
Contact details ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/9MZQ5FE8vs
— Irish Refugee Council (@IrishRefugeeCo) March 16, 2020
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