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Woman who died in Direct Provision buried without ceremony before friends were told

Sylva Tukula passed away last August.

Sylva. Source: NiallÓTuathail/Twitter.com

A WOMAN WHO died at a Direct Provision centre in Galway in August 2018 was buried last month without ceremony or prior notice to friends.

The Department of Justice & Equality has apologised for the distress caused to her friends, who discovered her remains were buried quietly by the State despite requests to be kept informed so they could make appropriate arrangements.

Sylva Tukula died at the Great Western House Direct Provision Centre in Galway in August 2018.

The Department had made it known to gardaí that her body should be released to friends for burial but nine months later, An Garda Síochána told the coroner they had exhausted all options to find a next of kin.

Sylva was then buried, but nobody she knew in Ireland was able to be present.

A spokesperson for the justice department has today expressed regret to the friends of Sylva over the “unintended consequences”. Sylva was a transgender woman who was originally from South Africa and was living at the all-male Great Western centre at the time of her death.

In a statement on its Facebook page yesterday, local LGBT group Amach said that friends and colleagues of Sylva were assured by national and local State representatives following her death that they would be notified once burial arrangements were made.

“Sadly, we were recently informed that our dear friend was buried by the State at the beginning of May,” the statement said.  

The department has said “it regrets the unintended obvious distress caused to Ms Tukula’s friends and colleagues upon hearing of her burial after the event”.

‘Left with more questions’

Members of Amach have said that they “continually checked” with Government representatives for updates while receiving no new information regarding any arrangements for Sylva’s burial.

“The fact that Sylva’s burial occurred in the absence of a ceremony, and without attendance, is deeply offensive to everyone close to Sylva, particularly members of the LGBT+ community who lived in the Great Western,” the group has said.

Residents of Great Western House were “very upset” when they heard about Sylva’s burial, one resident told TheJournal.ie. 

When you stay in this place for a long time, everyone becomes your family. 

The Department has said “it will liaise with [Sylva's] friends and colleagues in relation to offering to hold an appropriate memorial event in the locality, which they can attend.”

‘More questions than answers’

According to the department, all deaths and serious incidents that occur within Direct Provision centres are referred to the gardaí.

The gardaí then refer all deaths to the local Coroner’s office.  

“As is the case with all Gardaí/Coroner matters, the Reception and Integration Agency is not privy to information pertaining to individual investigations carried out under their remit,” the department spokesperson said. 

RIA says it aimed to assist with Sylva’s burial following her death, and wanted to liaise with her friends “through centre management and a local NGO,” the spokesperson added.

A member of RIA staff was in contact with the gardaí in relation to Sylva’s burial in late March 2019 to get an update on the release of her remains.

The gardaí advised that a request was to be made to the superintendent’s office to have Sylva’s remains released for burial, according to the department. This request was made on 4 April 2019 and RIA sent reminders on 17 April 2019 and 3 May 2019.

An update from the Superintendent’s office was received by RIA on 21 May stating that “all avenues had been exhausted for contacting Ms Tukula’s next of kin and that the decision to release her remains now rested with the Coroner’s office in Galway.”

The following day RIA contacted the Coroner’s office who advised RIA to contact the University Hospital in Galway.

Upon contacting the hospital, RIA was informed that the burial of Sylva Tukula had taken place on 9 May 2019 on the authority of the Coroner.

Amach has said the group is “left with more questions than answers” following the revelations and has called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Ms Tukula’s burial. 

“This abhorrent news has left many in shock, with those in the Direct Provision sites feeling that they will be buried alone thousands of miles away from people they grew up with by the Irish State,” the group has said.

“Anyone who has had a loved one pass away would empathise with how this has affected those that knew her, and how devastating this act would feel.”

Established in 1999 in response to a sharp increase in the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland, Direct Provision has been repeatedly criticised by migrant rights groups due to the length of time people remain in centres while their asylum applications or appeals are processed, the conditions of centres as well as the psychological effects on those living in these centres. 

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