From top: A bedroom in a direct provision centre in Swords, Dublin; Assistant Secretary at the Department of An Taoiseach Liz Canavan; tweets from Graham Clifford, of The Sanctuary Runners
Journalist Graham Clifford, who co-founded The Sanctuary Runners, tweeted testimonies from three separate healthcare workers (above) who travel from their crowded living conditions in Direct Provision centres to their healthcare work setting.
It’s not known how many healthcare workers live in direct provision.
It comes amid a campaign by refugee and asylum seeker support groups calling on the Government to move out “at risk” residents from the crowded centres where social distancing is, they say, impossible.
It also comes amid reports on RTÉ’s Drivetime last night that there have been several positive tests in at least two centres.
Further to this…
A group of academics in health, law, human rights and migration has today published an open letter in which they’ve outlined their concerns about direct provision and Covid-19.
They’re calling for own-door accommodation and individualised access to sanitation and eating facilities to every family unit and single person in the international protection system. They say the the necessary accommodation is available to provide for this and, to not do so, could see the State falling foul of its legal requirements.
Just before lunch, assistant secretary at the Department of An Taoiseach Liz Canavan told journalists at a press briefing in Government Buildings that the Government was working “tirelessly” to ensure direct provision centres are “well-prepared” and “able to respond” to any Covid-19 issues.
She said 300 new beds – as opposed to rooms – were recently announced at new centres in Tullamore, Rosslare Harbour and Cahircaveen.
She added: “Further beds are being actively sourced for international protection applicants to better support social distancing measures in centres.”
The letter is addressed to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Health Simon Harris, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan, CEO of the HSE Paul Reid and a number of TDs and ministers in which they’ve outlined their concerns about direct provision and Covid-19.
The letter, signed by around 400 academics and counting, states:
“Dear Government representatives and State officials,
We are specialists spanning fields of health systems, public health, social policy, law, human rights, migration and racism.
We write to express our utmost concern that the State is continuing at this time to require large numbers of people seeking international protection to live in shared bedrooms, and to share sanitary and eating facilities, within the direct provision system.
This has prevented many people from socially distancing according to Government advice, with the aim of avoiding contracting COVID-19 and avoiding passing the virus on to others while they may be asymptomatic.
Many direct provision centres are in rural locations. An outbreak of COVID-19 within a centre, where people have not been in a position to socially distance themselves from one another, could spread rapidly and create a cluster of cases which the local health system in any given location may be unable to manage.
It is also important to note that a number of people living in direct provision centres work as care providers for others in the community.
In every region of Ireland at present there are unprecedented numbers of empty hotel rooms, student accommodation units and self-catering holiday accommodation units.
We implore you to act now, to provide own-door accommodation and individualised access to sanitation and eating facilities to every family unit and single person in the international protection system, given that such action is practicable at this time.
This matter is urgent, given that several cases of COVID-19 in direct provision centres have already been reported.
The small financial allowance provided to people seeking international protection (€29.80 per week for a child, and €38.80 per week for an adult) does not enable those living within the direct provision system to find alternative, private accommodation in order to socially distance themselves from others.
On the other hand, in light of the scale of the emergency socio-economic measures which the Government is putting in place for the rest of the Irish population at this time, it is reasonable to expect the Government also to invest in ensuring the safety of international protection applicants to the greatest extent practicable.
We note that the Government decided in the past few weeks to remove international protection applicants from emergency accommodation (which may have included hotels) into new direct provision centres.
The rationale for this, according to the Minister for Justice and Equality, is that it is easier to communicate HSE advice to people when they are gathered together in direct provision centres.
However, in our view, it is eminently possible to find ways to communicate with people while also ensuring that they are enabled to self-isolate in own-door accommodation.
The Minister for Justice and Equality has further stated that his Department has instructed each direct provision centre to create self-isolation facilities for use by those suspected to have COVID-19, and that the Department of Justice and Equality will pilot ‘off-site self-isolation’ for people suspected of having COVID-19.
There are two major flaws to this approach:
First, as per the HSE’s Guidance and the Government’s current instructions to the rest of the national population, social distancing from others before a person shows signs of infection with COVID-19 is necessary in order to prevent the spread of the virus – since COVID-19 can be transmitted by individuals who are not demonstrating or reporting symptoms.
Second, reports from residents suggest that at least some direct provision centres are creating self-isolation facilities which are manifestly inappropriate, in that they do not allow for physical distancing and provide no privacy for the patient in their illness or recovery.
We further note that the Deputy Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality wrote in the past few days to people living in direct provision centres to assure them that the Department is ‘actively sourcing new accommodation to reduce the numbers in some settings’.
We urge the Government immediately to find as many private rooms as necessary to ensure that every family unit and every single person currently within the international protection system is able to socially distance from others. As mentioned above, the accommodation is available and this matter is now urgent.
The Government’s recently published guidance on ensuring an ethical approach to managing the crisis, An Ethical Framework for Decision-Making in a Pandemic, stresses that the implementation of public health measures should protect the interests of vulnerable populations and ensure that measures taken do not result in increased health inequalities.
In other words, in a pandemic, public health measures must apply to all; every person must be able to benefit from public health support, with the assistance of the State if necessary.