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'A gross violation': Asylum seekers say post is being opened without consent

Residents in Direct Provision centres have claimed the practice is commonplace.

RESIDENTS IN A number of Direct Provision centres have claimed that management and staff regularly open their post without permission.

People living in the Kinsale Road centre in Cork have alleged that management opened private letters and, in some cases, shared their content with the International Protection Office, which processes asylum applications.

Asad Mahmud believes a letter that was sent to him last week was deliberately opened. The envelope was ripped and sellotaped back together. It was a bank statement and Mahmud believes it was opened to find out his financial situation.

env 1 Source: Asad Mahmud

Adults living in DP facilities receive €38.80 per week, while children get €29.80 per week. Mahmud said he set up the bank account when he was doing an ETB software course in Cork last year. He said there is “not much in there” (less than €40).

He said the bank in question “wouldn’t send a letter like that”, adding: “You wouldn’t expect the post office to open a letter. Why would they open it? They have no reason to.”

env 2 Source: Asad Mahmud

Mahmud said other residents at the centre have had similar experiences, claiming the contents of a letter sent to a man from his brother in Pakistan were brought up at a meeting with IPO officials.

“People are paranoid and very worried about post being opened by management. We’re always under stress,” he told TheJournal.ie.

Mahmud is a member of the Aggrieved Asylum Seekers of Ireland and the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (Masi), which shared photos of the letter on social media. As a result, a number of people living in DP centres got in touch to share similar experiences.

Breach of Irish and EU legislation 

Bulelani Mfaco, also a member of Masi, said the opening of letters without consent is “a gross violation”, adding: “We are entitled to a right to privacy under Irish and EU legislation.”

“When we posted [the photo of Mahmud's letter] on Facebook, we heard from other asylum seekers that their mail had been opened as well,” Mfaco said.

He added that on two separate occasions post he received at the Knockalisheen accommodation centre in Co Clare appeared to have been “deliberately opened”.

Mfaco said management denied that the letters, one of which was in relation to a work permit, had been opened at the centre and may have been damaged while being posted.

Opening another person’s post without permission is in breach of the Post and Telecommunications Services Act 1983, as well as GDPR.

The Kinsale Road and Knockalisheen centres are run by Aramark. TheJournal.ie spoke to the managers at the two centres – both said they were not allowed to respond to press queries. TheJournal.ie has also contacted Aramark for comment. 

Reminding management about GDPR

When asked about residents’ post allegedly being opened, the Department of Justice told TheJournal.ie that international protection applicants’ right to privacy while resident in DP centres is “always of paramount importance” to the Reception and Integration Agency.

“As such, RIA has a data protection policy. Where a resident feels that their privacy may have been compromised, RIA would request that they contact them directly and they will speak immediately to the accommodation management.

“RIA has not received any recent complaints in relation to allegations of post being opened by staff in RIA accommodation centres, but has reminded centre management of their responsibilities to residents, in line with GDPR requirements,” a spokesperson said.

Just over 6,000 people live in 38 DP centres across the county, most of which are privately run. A further 1,068 asylum seekers live in emergency accommodation centres. 

Masi is preparing a file documenting alleged rights’ breaches at DP centres which it intends to submit to the European Commission. Mfaco said reports of post being opened without consent will be included in the document.

He added that residents want to raise the issues at European level as they feel their complaints are not taken seriously or dealt with sufficiently by centre management, the department or the RIA. The department did not reply to this specific query when asked for comment.

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Órla Ryan

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