By Memet Uludağ.

United Against Racism (UAR), in cooperation with the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), held a day of solidarity with asylum seekers living under the Direct Provision system today, 21 May.

It was a day not only to stand in solidarity with asylum seekers during the pandemic but also to repeat our calls to end the Direct Provision system. The pandemic, despite all its challenges, has also prompted waves of solidarity in our communities and workplaces. This solidarity must be extended to all marginalised groups, including asylum seekers. 

Crammed together during pandemic

Twenty years on, the so-called temporary measure of Direct Provision has turned into a massive, for-profit business with unimaginable suffering inflicted on people seeking protection and safety.

The current pandemic is affecting the most marginalised in the most severe ways. In Ireland, asylum seekers are crammed together in hostels and unsuitable accommodation centres where in many cases the social distancing rules and other health and safety measures are impossible to adhere. 

With the Covid-19 outbreak we have seen worsening conditions in Direct Provision centres. At the beginning of May, there were more than 20 cases of coronavirus in a centre in Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry, including a seven-year-old child. Asylum seekers in Cahersiveen and elsewhere repeatedly appealed for safe housing, but despite the very real health risks they are facing, the government failed to act with any sense of urgency. Residents in the Cahersiveen direct provision facility continue to seek help from the government.

People show solidarity despite their own hardship

When proposing this day of socially distanced solidarity rallies I wasn’t fully sure if it would go ahead, given the necessary pandemic restrictions and the understandable fear we all have about the outbreak.

I was also concerned that despite the outcry by asylum seekers and news reports of virus outbreaks in Cahersiveen, people may not mobilise. People face so many issues and concerns that Direct Provision may not be in people’s consciousnesses – I feared. 

But today, something brilliant happened. There were simultaneous rallies in Dublin, Cahersiveen, Miltown Malbay, Waterford, Galway, Mosney and other places. People came out and showed their support to asylum seekers. In Cahersiveen locals and Direct Provision residents gathered in unity. 

This demonstration of support for asylum seekers was important on many fronts. 

  • It shows that Direct Provision is in the consciousness of people and there is a much stronger movement of solidarity with asylum seekers compared to several years ago. The hard and long struggle is stronger than ever. 
  • Despite all issues, heath concerns and difficulties people made a serious effort to get out and defend asylum seekers.
  • Our political, anti-racism and solidarity campaigns may be hindered by the logistics of the Covid-19 outbreak but they are alive. Activists are not gone away. We don’t simply talk on Zoom meetings; we also act while taking care of safety and respect to each other’s health.
  • Asylum seekers and their supporters face an ongoing threat from pockets of far-right groups and social media lunatics but the anti-racist movement are much stronger, much more organised and more united than ever. This has to be recognised and cherished.
  • Today was not just about real actions on the streets; it was also a contribution to renewed hope for our future struggles.

An alternative to cruelty

The official line of successive Irish governments has been consistent over the past two decades – that there are no alternatives to the Direct Provision system. We must debunk this propaganda. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had said, “Direct provision is imperfect but alternative is camps and containers” – forgetting the fact some of these centres are concrete camps. The Minster for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, has accused those campaigning for an end to Direct Provision of having no alternative proposals.  He has said, “I have yet to hear a credible alternative being proposed in almost two decades to the current system.”

This question above can also be put as follows: Are there no alternatives to cruelty? Direct provision is cruelty!

There are very credible and achievable alternatives to the Direct Provision system, but they require political will and a genuine interest by the government in the wellbeing of asylum seekers.

Alternatives to direct provision are documented in great detail by organisations such as MASI, UAR, and various NGOs and progressive political groups.

Housing, health and other socio-economic crises are the consequences of government choices and not the making of marginalised groups in our society.

Asylum seekers are not a burden to Ireland. Given the chance, they will become part of our communities and workplaces. People fleeing wars and oppression don’t just turn up at our doorstep looking for handouts. Like the Irish immigrants in the UK and USA, they bring a pair of capable hands and a deep willpower to contribute to our society.

Twenty years on, the Direct Provision system can be compared to the Magdalene Laundries. We don’t have to wait another 20 years before recognising its horrors. 

We must continue to build our campaign repeat our calls:

End Direct Provision.

Stop the cruel dispersal of asylum seekers.

Give asylum seekers the full right to work and social protection.

There are enough resources to provide everyone with a home. Not one child, not one family left behind.

Stop all deportations.

Memet Uludağ is the convener of United Against Racism. Follow him on Twitter @Memzers. Follow United Against Racism on Twitter @UnitedARacism and Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland @masi_asylum.

Top image: Collage supplied by Memet Uludağ.

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