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'I don't want to go back': Asylum seeker fearful of returning to Direct Provision centre after Covid-19 outbreak

Mndala Limote said he is fearful of returning to his Direct Provision centre when his isolation at CityWest ends.

Image: Shutterstock/totojang1977

AN ASYLUM SEEKER in isolation has spoken of his fear of returning to a Direct Provision centre after over 30 people tested positive for Covid-19 there following a recent outbreak at a dog food factory. 

His comments come after the Department of Justice & Equality confirmed to TheJournal.ie that a number of transfers between Direct Provision centres have taken place in recent weeks. 

There have been 21 outbreaks of Covid-19 at centres since March, involving 235 cases. A number of recent cases relate to clusters associated with meat factories in Kildare, Laois and Offaly. 

More than 300 cases of Covid-19 have been identified at meat plants in the Midlands recently, leading to restrictions in Kildare, Offaly and Laois. 

NPHET last week recommended fortnightly tests at Direct Provision centres due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19 in congregated settings.

TheJournal.ie spoke to one resident affected by the recent outbreak. He has been living at a centre in the East of the country and said that residents were only informed of two Covid-19 cases one week after management were told. 

The resident – who is currently in isolation at the HSE’s CityWest facility – said people living at the centre were told by management of a Covid-positive case seven days after two residents – who work at the Irish Dog Food Plant in Naas – tested positive. 

The resident, Mndala Limote*, has been living at the centre since 2017. He said that residents were told not to leave the centre after two cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed and that if they were working they’d have to tell their employer they could not come to work. 

“That was quite shocking because we didn’t expect it. Coronavirus coming to this hostel? We were all shaken,” he said, adding that he does not think enough was done early on to prevent Covid-19 spreading in the centre. 

“The fact that we were not informed in time caused it to spread within five days,” he claimed. 

‘Two different safety standards’ 

There has been a renewed focus on Ireland’s asylum system given recent cases, leading to increased criticism of living conditions in Direct Provision centres, as well as working conditions in Ireland’s meat factories. 

A report published yesterday by the Irish Refugee Council found that half of people living in Direct Provision can’t social distance from other residents during Covid-19. 

Over 40%, the report found, continue to share a room with a non-family member. 

The IRC’s report says asylum seekers are suffering “fear and trepidation” due to their “inability to control” their health and safety during Covid-19. 

The call to end Direct Provision has become “more compelling than ever” in the context of the pandemic, the council said, adding that two levels of safety standards have been created during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“One for the general public, where social distancing is encouraged, and another for people in residential settings such as Direct Provision, where sharing of intimate space is implicitly accepted,” said IRC CEO Nick Henderson. 

The report was compiled through an online survey made available to residents between April and June 2020. Some 418 people – 5.4% of people living in Direct Provision – from 38 Direct Provision centres and 22 Emergency Accommodation centres took part.

The IRC found 55% of people surveyed felt unsafe due to the pandemic, while 50% were unable to social distance themselves from other residents. Some 42% said they were sharing a room with a non-family member.

More than 155 shared a room with three people and 5% shared with four people. One respondent said they were sharing a room with 11 other people. 

Meanwhile, residents complained about a lack of communication from managers regarding Covid-19′s spread. There is “no visibility” about the number of cases at their centre, one said. 

Of the 204 respondents who said they were employed, more than one-fifth worked in hospitals, other healthcare settings, or the care sector, according to the report. 

Limote said that after Covid-19 spread throughout his centre, residents were “scared” but that he is not surprised the virus spread. 

“We have a communal kitchen and this where everybody has to go to make their breakfast, their lunch. It’s the only kitchen we have,” said Limote, adding that there is not enough room to social distance at the centre. 

“They say that social distancing is possible… in my opinion it’s not actually a safe place for families, the kind of rooms that we have. They’re small rooms, we don’t have recreation rooms for children.” 

Centre management isn’t communicating with residents either, he said. “They don’t want to hear our opinions.”

Limote said he is fearful of returning to his Direct Provision centre when his isolation at CityWest ends later this week. 

“If it is still the same living conditions I don’t want to go back and live in such a place. I worry the same problem will occur again and I wouldn’t risk it.” 

Increased testing

NPHET has said fortnightly testing of people living in Direct Provision, as well as homeless people and Roma living in congregated settings, should take place. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Dr Ronan Glynn said: “My understanding is that anybody that needed to be moved out of Direct Provision to CityWest has been moved.”

“That is the approach we’ve been taking over the last week to 10 days,” said Dr Glynn, in response to outbreaks in factories, adding he was confident additional testing and self-isolation will reduce transmission in Direct Provision centres. 

Dr Glynn stressed last week that testing would be done a voluntary basis at Direct Provision centres. 

He cautioned that other people with Covid-19 are living “all around” the three counties – Kildare, Laois and Offaly – now under restriction. 

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Dr Glynn said given the volume of cases in Kildare, Laois and Offaly “we will be fortunate if [Covid-19] doesn’t end up spilling out into those communities.”

Despite NPHET’s confidence that these public health measures will help to reduce risk of transmission in Direct Provision, there have been persistent calls to move people out of centres.

Sanctuary Runners, a Waterford-based group, has called for any Direct Provision resident who works in Ireland’s meat factories to be moved out of centres immediately. 

“Should a worker in Direct Provision contract Covid-19 its spread within a centre is inevitable given the lack of ability to practice social distancing,” the group said. 

“We wouldn’t allow this to happen in any other sphere.”

In response to queries regarding informing residents of centres about Covid-19 cases a spokesperson for the Department of Justice & Equality said public health decisions are a matter for the HSE. 

They said: “Residents will only be notified if the HSE consider they are a close contact that are required to either be tested or self-isolate.”

*Name has been changed 

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