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'Fires at Direct Provision hotels should prompt discussion about far-right minority, otherwise the racists win'

There are clear victims here – the men, women and children who were forced to flee their homes, Dr Fiona O’Reilly writes.

Dr Fiona O’Reilly

ADA, IN HER mid-30s is a mother-of-three. She presented for a health assessment to our makeshift clinic set up in an otherwise under-used hotel now providing emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.

The Safetynet nurse, with an interpreter, was careful to conduct the assessment with sensitivity and compassion. Ada was traumatised by her recent separation from her three children. She was still breastfeeding the youngest one when they were separated.

Her story emerged over the course of the 40-minute assessment. This saw her as an innocent caught up in a political conflict in a sub-Saharan African country. Her husband was now missing, possibly dead, and she was in danger. She was helped to escape and her children were sent to a relative.

However, the escape plan was frantic and confused and instead of being reunited with her children, which was her expectation, she ended up being helped out of the country and now was claiming asylum in Ireland. She sat alone and distraught in the hotel room we were using as a clinic.

She was in a strange country, with a language she couldn’t speak with a bed for the night and food. Yes, she had survived with her life, but her three small children were in another country without their parents. She didn’t feel like living.

Fire in Rooskey 

When I was asked on radio programme Drivetime yesterday evening how did the asylum seekers who we work with react to the news about the fire in the hotel in Rooskey as a presumed objection to them being accommodated there, I didn’t know how to answer. The cause of the fire has yet to be confirmed but it’s suspected to have been an arson attack. 

I’m sure Ada wouldn’t react, she is thinking only of her children. There is only so much trauma anyone can take, after that things simply can’t be processed.

During the course of their health assessments, the GP and nurses on the Safetynet Mobile Health and Screening team encountered many harrowing stories of loss, torture, trauma, persecution, forced prostitution and human suffering.

They did not ask for these stories. They were there to assess physical and mental health but, inevitably, the stories came. With health and wellbeing being inextricably linked to traumatic experience, of course the stories came.

Tareq, a young man in his early-20s, was in college in another African country when he was asked to be involved in election monitoring. He did so, but when he reported the rigging that was going on he was imprisoned and tortured. Once released, it was clear he had to flee the country so his grandmother sold what she could to pay for his travel.

On his recent arrival to Ireland he too claimed asylum. He too was provided with emergency accommodation, awaiting relocation to a Direct Provision centre. What does he think of the assumed arson attacks in the hotels earmarked as Direct Provision centres in Rooskey or Moville? Like Ada, I don’t think it would register for him either.

Tareq is not looking at Irish news but searching the internet to see what’s going on in his own country to see if his family are safe. But also it wouldn’t register because he has no idea where he is to go to next. He knows he has a bed in this hotel for the next week or two, then he’ll be moved to a centre where he will stay until his claim is processed.

‘The racists have won’ 

The current accommodation is far from ideal, it’s an emergency. The 210 people we assessed over a two-month period before Christmas are waiting for relocation to centres – two of which are now not available because of fire damage.

The racists and exclusionists have won. They have successfully reduced the capacity to accommodate people seeking asylum. They have prompted discussion about consultation, constructing communities as victims. There are clear victims here. They are the men, women and children who were forced to flee their countries, their homes, their families.

They have arrived, not by choice, to claim asylum. If these fires prompt any discussion it should be about what we can do as an Irish people to stop the dangerous far-right minority rewriting our national characteristic as a welcoming nation.

Dr Fiona O’Reilly PhD is the General Manager of Safetynet Primary Care, a registered charity. The Safetynet Mobile Health and Screening Unit is tasked by the HSE National Office of Social Inclusion with health screening and medical assessments for refugees and asylum seekers, as well searching for communicable diseases among homeless populations and other higher-risk groups.

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Dr Fiona O’Reilly

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