East End Hotel in Portarlington, Co Laois which is being used as a Direct Provision centre; inside a room at the centre
The group Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland circulated a video (top) which shows 10 beds in one room for asylum seekers living in a direct provision centre at the East End Hotel in Portarlington, Co Laois.
It was later shared by journalist Barry Whyte, of Newstalk, and Senator Catherine Ardagh called for the centre to be shut down.
The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he was seeking a report on the matter.
On Saturday, the Department of Justice released a statement claiming the video was “staged”.
“The Department has been informed that this video does not represent the reality at this facility. Hotel management has informed the Department that last night, a number of residents moved themselves from their assigned rooms into the room shown in the video.
“The footage circulating appears to have been staged and the residents involved have been asked to return to their allocated rooms.
“Similar claims were made about the accommodation in the hotel last Autumn and subsequent Department inspections confirmed that the accommodation arrangements at the hotel had been misrepresented in a staged video at that time.”
In response, MASI last night rejected the department’s claim.
In a statement, MASI said:
“We reject claims made by the Department of Justice and Equality and the management of East End Hotel in Portarlington that footage showing appalling conditions in the centre was staged by asylum seekers.
“At 7.21pm, on the 3rd January, 2020, MASI tweeted a video recorded by asylum seekers in the East End Hotel in Portarlington.
“The video showed 10 beds in a room that has no windows. The room also does not have a cupboard for the men to store their clothes.
“In the video, some of the their clothes can be seen on the beds and on the floor.
“About six months ago, on the 5th August 2019, MASI issued a statement after visiting several centres, where we noted how appalled we were that the East End Hotel had five people in one room.
“For this, the owner was being paid at least €5,250 per month – the average for a Direct Provision centre.
“And since this is an emergency Direct Provision centre and the average cost is more than double for emergency accommodation,the owner is likely being paid a lot more than this per month.
“We met with staff from the Department of Justice and Equaliry including the Head of RIA (Reception and Integration Agency) on the 29th August, 2019, and raised the indignity of having to live with no privacy in overcrowded rooms.
“The Department seemed to be more concerned about the number of beds they can find and not the rights of the people being moved around the country like a yoyo with no say on the matter.
“Such is the case of the men who shared the video. The 19 men had been staying in Treacy’s Hotel in Co Monaghan before being transferred to the East End Hotel in Portarlington on the 3rd January 2020. This is when they were shocked and appalled to find 10 beds in a room with no windows and cupboards to store clothes.”
The statement added:
“On the 4th January, 2020, the management in the East End Hotel went to the room and moved some of the beds into one corner, embarrassed by the video circulating online.
“The Department of Justice and Equality issued a statement which suggests that they called management in the East End Hotel who claims the conditions in the room were staged by asylum seekers.
“They also claim that different footage recorded by different asylum seekers, showing similar conditions in the East End Hotel, published by the Independent on 5th october 2019, was staged.
“Contrary to the claims of management and the statement released by the Department of Justice and Equality, staff claim that they did indeed put the 10 beds in the room because another room was not ready for occupation when the men moved in on the 3rd January 2020.
“At not point did the Department of Justice and Equality speak with the affected asylum seekers to find out what happened.”
Members of MASI Lucky Khambule and Bulelani Mfaco later travelled to the hotel in Portarlington on Saturday but they were denied entry.
They were only able to speak with some of the asylum seekers staying at the hotel outside the hotel.
The statement adds:
“Denied entry, MASI met outside the centre with some of the asylum seekers staying in the East End Hotel and were horrified by the testimony they shared with us from being threatened by management, told you can go back to your country if you are not happy, and being denied an empty glass to use to drink water.
“This showed us that the problems in the East End Hotel are beyond just a number of beds in the room but extend to the general conduct of the management team.”
“At the very heard of these overcrowded rooms in Direct Provision and emergency Direct Provision centres is profiteering through the asylum system.
“Private operators of these centres are paid public money by the Department of Justice and Equality for each person staying in the centre, not per bedroom.
“In other words, the more people you have in a centre, the more money you can make.
“In July 2018, we were told by the Department of Justice and Equality that the average cost per person in Direct Provision is €35 per day which brings it to €1,050 per person for each month.
“…on the 5th January 2020, we received texts from asylum seekers in the East End Hotel in Portarlington telling us that they have since been moved to a different room that has five people (do the maths).”
MASI has said it has written to the Ombudsman and asked for an independent investigation into the matter of overcrowding in emergency accommodation and in Direct Provision centres.
Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (Facebook)