The decision to transfer asylum seekers from one accommodation centre to another was marked by official insensitivity, intransigence and intimidation, according to an Irish Refugee Council report.
In June 2010, the Irish Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) wrote to 109 of the 800 or so asylum seekers resident at its accommodation centre at Mosney, County Meath, telling them that they would have to move to a Dublin accommodation centre in seven days’ time. The high-handed action, taken with no consultation whatsoever with residents, many of whom had been at Mosney for a number of years, sparked protests which were met with official intransigence and increasingly oppressive tactics. The sorry tale is told in a short report by the Irish Refugee Council (IRC), Without rights or recognition, which intervened without success on behalf of residents. What it tells us about the attitudes of the justice ministry, the RIA and the gardai’s immigration bureau gives cause for concern.
When the IRC asked why residents were being told to move, the response was opaque – ‘operational and bed management reasons’. No account was taken of residents’ health needs – the centre’s GP later told a parliamentary committee that he had been given no time to submit reports on forty-seven patients in support of their objections to the move, and that the Agency’s medical referee dismissed the objections without giving reasons. The IRC’s intervention succeeded in getting the transfer deferred, but as the protest began to build up, with a visit to the centre by TDs (members of Irish parliament) and with thirteen NGOs coming together to question the decision, on 26 August the ministry of justice sent in officials on an early-morning ‘inspection’ which smacked of intimidation.
Of forty residents interviewed by the IRC, most said that officials came in ‘loudly and aggressively’, arriving before 9am, and in three cases before 7am, when residents were still in bed. In three cases officials did not wait for the door to be opened but came in using their own keys. They conducted a room-to-room search. In one case officials barged into a bathroom while a child was using the toilet; a child was questioned without its mother being present. In eleven cases officials showed no ID. One woman said, ‘We felt like criminals … it was like a police raid in Africa’. The ministry has never responded to the IRC’s questions as to the purpose and the legal basis of the ‘inspection’.
With some residents showing no signs of backing down in their objection to the move, the garda national immigration bureau was the next agency to show its heavy hand. Immigration gardai came to the centre and told one recalcitrant resident that refusal to transfer would be seen as refusal to comply and would be met with detention.
In October, the centre’s manager told remaining residents that they were there without permission, that there was no money to pay for their stay and that they would be dealt with to ensure that they vacated. A further ‘inspection’ visit in November by justice ministry officials was the last straw for those still holding out, who were told that if they did not leave they would be transferred to centres outside Dublin. By the end of November, all had finally agreed to go.
Way back in 2008, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, criticised Ireland’s ‘Direct Provision’ model of compulsory accommodation centres for asylum seekers as undermining residents’ personal autonomy, particularly given the three to five years’ wait for the determination of their claims. This little saga demonstrates all too clearly that the authorities do not conceive of asylum seekers as having any personal autonomy to lose. But it also demonstrates people’s determination to fight such high-handed official behaviour in defence of their right to be treated with a degree of respect and dignity.
Download a copy of Without rights or recognition here (pdf file, 916kb)