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Dublin: 8°C Sunday 25 October 2020

It's like being slowly poisoned - I wouldn't wish the life of direct provision on my worst enemy...

Siphathisiwe Moyo has lived under direct provision in Ireland for the last seven years.

Siphathisiwe Moyo

I HAVE LIVED in direct provision for seven years now and every time someone asks me “How is life in direct provision?”, I find it very difficult to give a quick answer. It’s a very complex question. Most of the time I don’t really want to talk about it, especially to someone who has never lived that kind of life before. What I always hear from people who used to live in direct provision and have now moved on is that they wouldn’t wish that life on my worst enemy.

People ask what is so hard about direct provision? You have a roof over your head and you are fed. This is true and don’t misunderstand me, people are very grateful that they are in a country where they feel secure but life is not just about eating and sleeping. The point to note is that when you are in direct provision you are not allowed to work or attend third level education. Children are allowed to attend national school and secondary school, but up until a few months ago they were not allowed to proceed to third level education. Imagine studying for the Leaving Cert while knowing that however good your results you won’t be able to go on to college. When the Minister for Education announced that there would be changes starting in September of 2016, that was the best news for lots of asylum seekers and their families but for many others it is too late.


There are things we have to be clear about when we talk about direct provision: we are talking about the buildings where people are housed but also the system that they have to go through. If I was to talk about the building I would say it’s not too bad until  you have to spend over a year  there. When it was created people were meant to live there for only nine months. I am sure that direct provision was set up with good intentions but somewhere down the line something went wrong. In my opinion  what has turned direct provision into an unbearable state of living is the time people spend in it and the fact that children are born and raised in these conditions.

Ireland is a country where the autonomy of the family has constitutional protection, yet for years on end parents are not allowed to cook for their children. It is the case everywhere that families are brought together around the table to enjoy the food cooked by family members. It is a time when communication happens and nutritional habits are formed. These are important memories we carry into our adult life but the children born and brought up in direct provision will never get to experience that.

The other problem is that the dignity of a family is lost as children have to share rooms with their parents. In this day and age I don’t think that should be. For the number of years that I have lived in direct provision I have seen families being torn apart because parents don’t have time for one another, either because they are sharing the room with the children or  one or both parents is depressed.  The word family seems to have lost its true meaning here in this system.


Many men suffer in silence because of the feeling that they have lost their identity. In most cultures a man is the head of the home. He earns this recognition by getting up in the morning and going to work to support his family, but because the direct provision system does not allow him to do this, he then feels that he has lost his manhood.  When that happens, women get bitter and the fights start.  Most of the fights happen in front of children because there is no private space.

20/11/2014. End Direct Provison Protest. Pictured Two-year-old Hannah Komdwe at the protest in Dublin in November 2014

These are very educated men we are talking about here. Most people who came or who are coming to Europe are from countries where benefits don’t exist so you can imagine how difficult it must be for them to find themselves living under these conditions with nothing to do. For those that think people are here for benefits, this is not true for most, but there are always the exceptions as in any system. The majority of the countries these people come from have no benefit systems and they have never heard of this until they arrive here.  It’s worth remembering that people had jobs and homes but they had to leave everything behind because of war and other problems they were faced with in their countries. Maybe if we could be a little more open-minded and actually listen to people and try to understand why they left their countries we would be a step closer to working together to find a solution to this crisis.

Lost years

Keeping people in this direct provision system for years will not help the Government in any way but instead will cost them a lot. I have seen people who came here when they were healthy and strong but by the time they leave the system, they have various illnesses. I am very happy with the recommendations of the Working Group that people should be allowed to work after nine months in the system because that will help people to keep well while waiting for decisions to be made on their cases. For people who have lost five, seven and thirteen years of their lives, unfortunately the damage has already been done.

However, we can’t dwell on those mistakes. Instead we can seek to change things and create a fair and just system for both parties involved. When you ask me if it’s Ireland’s fault that people have spent so many years of their life suffering in direct provision, I would say no. I blame first the countries where people came from, but at the same time Ireland has failed in its duty to treat people who come seeking asylum in a humane and compassionate manner. There is so much to lose as an asylum seeker, you lose years of your life and your connection with your family members back home. Those people will want nothing to do with you when you return to them with nothing after years of being in Europe. When this happens people feel that life is not worth living so they end it which is so unfortunate. Does it really have to end like this for people? Living in direct provision for years is like being slowly poisoned, it kills you gradually. People feel depressed and hopeless. Some have anxiety and some have begun to lose their minds. Others develop permanent mental heath issues and illnesses so that even after they get their papers they feel useless. After so many years of doing nothing they have to start all over again learning what small children learn.


Asylum seekers are desperate and will do anything they can to get out of the situations they are facing in their countries. Look at the numbers of people perishing in the sea and falling from planes. Those people are someone’s family members, a loved one. When we are sitting at home watching the news everyday and we see people dying, what do we say to each other? Do we say, “Well that’s their problem they chose to take that risk”? Is that our attitude towards people who are suffering? Is that how we as people should look at the suffering of our fellow human beings? Well if that is what human beings have become, then we have lost the spirit of “Ubuntu” and life itself has become meaningless. When people come seeking our help we don’t have to treat them like criminals. What crime have they committed? All they are trying to do is to begin a new life in a safe environment. It’s our duty to show them love and compassion, while at the same time securing our borders. Life is a gift we all have to share equally and if we don’t learn from our past and see where mistakes can be corrected from history then we as human beings will never develop.

20/11/2014. End Direct Provison Protest. Pictured Asylum seekers protesting against direct provision outside Leinster House in November 2014 Source: Rollingnews.ie

I always hear leaders talking about the root cause of these issues and traffickers are blamed but the traffickers are not really the problem. They are merely criminals who saw the opportunity of becoming rich by taking advantage of other people’s suffering.  The real problem is the misuse of power and greed by the leaders of the countries people are fleeing. Instead of punishing people for a crime they didn’t commit, we should equip them with the secret weapon of peace which the West has: education. Teach us, because we can learn if you try to teach us. These people will some day go back to educate their own people and that is how peace will be maintained, then there will be no one leaving their countries to come to Europe. For those you call economic migrants, teach them skills to take back to their own countries where they can create jobs, that will stop their fellow countrymen from having to travel to Europe to look for a better life.

Putting up barriers and fences before people is short-sighted and you are fighting a losing battle. People who are gaining from this will come up with other ways of trafficking  and getting richer and those who are trafficked will continue suffering. Mothers why are we standing by watching our children perishing? Fathers, brothers, sister, aunties and uncles, I believe that our purpose as human beings is to save one another, but history shows that human beings have failed one another.


Read: Teenager in direct provision gets 575 points, but can’t afford college fees

Read: People have lost years of their lives in Direct Provision – here is how it could end

About the author:

Siphathisiwe Moyo

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