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Direct Provision, Ukraine and Irish hypocrisy

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

29 March 2022

Protest against the direct provision system.

The current crisis in Ukraine has revealed deep and multiple failings on the part of the left, which has not been able to say much more than the official pro war chants, with some slight differences.  It has also revealed once more many of the structural failings of how Ireland deals with refugees.

For many years the standard method of dealing with refugees was, first of all to make it nigh on impossible to come to the country, frequently apply the Dublin Convention where refugees should seek asylum in the first country they go to, which for many would be Moldova or in the case of an EU country Poland.  This despicable convention is not being applied in this case.  Syrians and Kurds had to cross the Mediterranean and fight to be accepted anywhere other than the Greek beaches on which they landed, as was the case with those Africans landing in Spain and Italy.  The response of European governments was to try and criminalise rescuing people at sea.

The second aspect is how the refugees are housed.  European regimes have resorted to using prisons and other institutions as standard options for dealing with them.  In the case of Ireland, they came up an Irish solution to an Irish problem: Direct Provision.  These are centres, former hotels and holiday centres that are run by private companies on a for profit basis.  Unlike the case of Ukrainian refugees, the government does not send around letters asking people to open their homes to Syrians, Kurds or Africans.  Many of those held in direct provision have no right to access employment and limited right to education.  There is no fast-track recognition of their professional qualifications, something Ukrainian migrant workers would also have suffered from prior to the war.  There was never an obstacle to not setting up Direct Provision.

The reaction to the Ukrainian crisis shows quite clearly that the mental torture inflicted on thousands of refugees for years was deliberate.  The government chose not to treat them humanely.  They were housed in overcrowded facilities and made jump through the hoops of the system.  There are currently over 7,000 people held in direct provision centres.  Given the relatively decent treatment being afforded to Ukrainians, the governments last fig leaf on Direct Provision has been blown away.  They decided to treat many people inhumanely, they can now take the decision to treat them decently as they are doing with the Ukrainians.

The Syrians and Kurds are people fleeing a war, just like the Ukrainians, though many of those who fled Ukraine, did so pre-emptively from regions the war hadnít and in some cases still hasnít reached.  But in terms of international war in a country, you donít have to have bombs raining down on your town before you flee.  This, however, also applies to Kurds and Syrians and Africans who are frequently asked to prove direct and immediate danger.

The crisis has also shown that the Irish government has not resolved any of the major problems facing the country and that is health and housing.  Coveneyís grandstanding on the issue of accepting refugees faces the problem of housing and a health system not worth the name, which is already causing difficulty for some refugees, with special interventions from the state required to solve what should be solved through a properly functioning system.

We should take advantage of the current crisis to demand the abolition of Direct Provision, a complete overhaul of all migratory rules to facilitate rather than hinder the arrival of people in Ireland, and a real solution to the housing and health sector crises to be able to provide for all.

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