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Having to cross the border or stay overnight: Concerns raised about location of rural Direct Provision centres

It’s a criminal offence for asylum seekers to cross the border into Northern Ireland.

CONCERNS HAVE BEEN raised about the location of some Direct Provision centres as two planned facilities damaged by suspected arson attacks are still to open.

The new centres, former hotels in Moville, Co Donegal and Rooskey, Co Leitrim were due to open in January.

There are concerns about the centre in Moville in particular, given its rural location and distance from Dublin. Residents would likely have to travel to the capital for appointments related to their asylum application.

The quickest method, by either car or public transport, would involve crossing the border into Northern Ireland – a criminal offence for asylum seekers. 

It would take about three hours and 40 minutes to drive non-stop from Moville to Dublin city. However, asylum seekers generally rely on public transport – this method of travel could mean having to get more than one bus and could take upwards of seven hours one-way.

The journey time would be again extended if the person wished to remain within the Republic, something they are supposed to. As such, asylum seekers living at the planned centre would be unable to travel to and from Dublin in the same day.

moville Google Maps Source: Google Maps

Sinn Féin’s Housing Spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin told TheJournal.ie the suspected arson attacks at the sites of the proposed centres in Moville and Rosokey are “absolutely unjust”.

He added, however, that these locations are “not suitable places to be putting asylum seekers”, noting that residents at the Moville centre “wouldn’t be able to get to Dublin and back in a day and would have to take a circuitous route via Sligo”. 

It’s a really big problem. It’s clearly a desire of [the Reception and Integration Agency] to get out of Dublin because of property prices.

A spokesperson for Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, echoed these sentiments, noting that people staying in Moville “will have to travel a roundabout route to Dublin for interviews in order to stay within the borders of the Republic”.

“We know from our experience working with asylum seekers in remote centres, such as Clonakilty in west Cork, that travelling to Dublin for interviews or meetings with their solicitor ends up inevitably being an overnight trip.

In the past RIA would provide accommodation for asylum seekers who needed to overnight in Dublin, but with the recent overcrowding they have stopped this and the local social welfare officers are not providing exceptional needs payments to cover an overnight stay.

The spokesperson said this presents asylum seekers, in particular families, with “serious difficulties”.

The Irish Refugee Council has also highlighted transport and other issues faced by residents living in rural Direct Provision centres such as Moville, Kenmare in Co Kerry and  Lisdoonvarna in Co Clare.

Almost 6,300 people live in 38 Direct Provision centres across Ireland.

As of last week, 729 individuals have been granted protection status or permission to remain in Ireland – 206 people have refugee status; 441 people have permission-to-remain status and 82 people have subsidiary protection status.

Adults and children living in DP centres each receive a weekly allowance of €21.60. 

Overnight stay in Sligo 

When asked about the location of the Moville centre and the provision of overnight accommodation, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Equality said “arrangements will be put in place to provide overnight accommodation in Sligo to assist applicants to get to their appointments in Dublin”.

They added that as part of the contractual agreement between the department and accommodation providers, “arrangements must be put in place to meet the reasonable transport needs of residents”.

The spokesperson said the department is “still committed to opening the accommodation centre in Moville”.

The current situation is that the owner’s insurance company have commenced assessing the damage from the arson attack. Upon completion of this assessment, the contractor can commence repair works at the Caiseal Mara Hotel.

They added that the department is liaising closely with the contractor, but has no set date for the completion of the necessary repairs.

In relation to the planned centre in Rooskey, along the Leitrim-Roscommon border, the department is “awaiting the completion of works and the submission of regulatory compliance documentation prior to the commencement of the Shannon Key West Hotel as an accommodation centre”.

‘Forced to take what it can get’ 

The Nasc spokesperson said in addition to transport issues, asylum seekers living in isolated areas have difficulty accessing further education and training, childcare, English language courses and employment opportunities.

Such issues were addressed in the McMahon Working Group and its subsequent report into improving conditions at Direct Provision centres.

transport rec 1 Source: McMahon Report

transport rec 2 Source: McMahon Report

The 2015 report made a number of recommendations in relation to RIA seeking contracts with centres in locations with easy access to educational, medical, transport and other services to meet the needs of residents.

The Nasc spokesperson said these recommendations are being somewhat ignored due to difficulties in sourcing accommodation.

It seems that given the Department of Justice’s difficulties in getting new tenders, that they are basically forced to take whatever is being offered.

“This certainly points to the need for the Department to start looking beyond the privatised model they have been using for asylum accommodation and start seriously looking at alternative models.”

The spokesperson welcomed recent statements from the department noting that it is open to “exploring alternatives to the current model”.

A number of regional procurement competitions for Direct Provision centres are being rolled out in 2019. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said it “would be inappropriate to speculate on the location of premises that may be offered to the department in upcoming public procurement competitions”.

However, they added that it is a requirement of the tender that bidders who are located more than 2km from required services provide a transport plan.

They stated that “significant improvements to living conditions for applicants for international protection have been made over recent years, in particular with the implementation of the recommendations of the Justice McMahon Report”.

The spokesperson noted that the introduction of a right to work for qualified applicants who have not received a first-instance decision about their asylum status after nine months can result in “the achievement of economic independence allowing applicants more options to source their own accommodation”.

‘Friends of the Centre’ groups have also been established in each centre. This initiative aims to bring residents, community and voluntary groups together with a view to increasing integration and developing greater community links with residents, the spokesperson added.

Clondalkin Towers 

During the week it was announced that the Direct Provision centre in Clondalkin in Dublin is set to remain open for at least another two years.

Prior to the announcement, there had been calls for the planned closure of the centre at Clondalkin Towers, another former hotel, to be postponed on humanitarian grounds as residents struggled to find alternative accommodation, as reported by TheJournal.ie.

There were 235 people, including 78 children, living in the centre as of last month.

About 70 residents already have protected or leave-to-remain status and faced having to find private rented accommodation; this figure includes 19 refugees.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the Peter McVerry Trust (PMVT) have been helping residents at Clondalkin Towers source new accommodation.

3341202_orig-2 Clondalkin Towers Source: Donated to the Asylum Archive

Prior to the centre’s contract being extended, David Moriarty, Assistant Director of JRS, said there was “huge anxiety” among residents about where they could be sent as they had put down roots in the community and many children had settled in local schools.

He said residents had concerns about being sent somewhere more isolated with fewer services and supports. He added that being made to leave “the only place they’ve known” could have a negative impact on people’s mental health.

“They could be told they’re going to Cork, Donegal, Mayo, wherever it may be – they may or may not have heard of these places,” Moriarty said, adding that organisations like the JRS try to bridge the gap created by such an “information deficit”.

At the start of October, residents were informed that the Clondalkin centre would close on 3 December as the company running the centre was not renewing its contract. However, a deal was later reached to keep the centre open until June. 

The company, Fazyard Ltd, has been paid €27.5 million from the State over an 11-year period for operating the centre. It reapplied to run the centre in the recent tendering process and was successful. The company plans to increase the centre’s capacity from 225 to 250 people.

During the week it was also announced that three other centres – two in Co Kildare (Hazel Hotel in Monasterevin and the Eyre Powell in Newbridge) and one in Co Laois (the Montague Hotel in Emo) – are due to be granted two-year contract renewals once mobilisation works to deliver on the proposals have been commenced. A further one-year extension may be added to each contract.

Fazyard Ltd is also behind the proposal for the centre in Co Laois, which has a planned capacity of 202 residents.

Oscar Dawn Ltd is the bidder for the Hazel Hotel proposal, which has a planned capacity of 143 residents. Peachport Ltd is behind the Eyre Powell bid, which has a planned capacity of 125 residents.

The government has paid tens of millions of euros to private companies running Direct Provision centres around Ireland. It has also paid over €1.6 million to a private contractor to source emergency accommodation for asylum seekers since September 2018.

This week, TheJournal.ie revealed that nearly 100 asylum seekers have been relocated from a hotel in Co Monaghan to make rooms available ahead of peak tourist season. 

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Órla Ryan

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