There has been renewed focus on the direct provision system for asylum seekers in Ireland, in part because of the comparison being made with the scandal of the Magdalene Laundries. The system does not allow those seeking asylum to work and subjects them to poor communal living conditions, lengthy delays in the processing of applications and a life on the very the margins of society. Dr Joan Giller, a doctor who has provided medical care at a direct provision accommodation centre for a number of years, provides this analysis:
not being able to work is devastating to people whose worth in the structure of their family system is based on their ability to provide; being forced to live as a family in one room is anathema to most families, for whom privacy is essential; not being able to cook for the family and having to exist on food that is often barely edible is torturous; living in poverty is degrading and demoralising, especially when your children are asking for small things or money for school trips that you cannot provide; waiting, often for many years, for a decision on your asylum application in a system that appears to dispense arbitrary justice is demoralising; having your application turned down on the basis that the Department of Justice does not believe what you have told it is often devastating.
Liam Thornton at Human Rights in Ireland has said that the time is now for a “fundamental reform of this punitive and penal system”. He notes in passing the role of private companies in all of this. Over €650 million has been paid by the State to companies providing accommodation for asylum seekers over the past decade, according to the Irish Examiner. Sue Conlan of the Irish Refugee Council has made the contrast between the amounts received by individual asylum seekers and these companies:
This sum has remained the same for 12 years: €19.10 per week for adults, just under €1,000 for the year, and €9.60 per week per child, just under €500 for the year, while the centre operators received over €12,500 per resident for 2012.
The direct provision system and the treatment of asylum seekers remains a stain on Ireland’s human rights record and the blame lies squarely with the State. Although it would be denied, It has been said that the system is deliberately designed to dissuade people from seeking asylum, despite Ireland’s commitments under the 1951 Refugee Convention. The direct provision accommodation has been said to amount to a violation of the right to adequate housing, but, adding insult to injury, it is sufficient to earn the companies in question profitable Government contracts.