In the midst of the pandemic, a group of asylum seekers moved to a small, rural Irish town. Then they started to be positive about Covid-19

In the midst of the pandemic, a group of asylum seekers moved to a small, rural Irish town. Then they started to be positive about Covid-19

It took months for a decision to be made on her asylum status. But the letter was not about that.

“I was scared for my life,” said Misa, who asked not to be given her real name because she feared she might be affected by her asylum application.

A total of about 100 people were evacuated from a handful of centers, including a hotel in Dublin where a visitor from Italy was reported to have contracted the virus.

A few days after their arrival, one of the residents began to show symptoms, according to three people to whom CNN spoke. That’s when the rumors started.

“I was afraid for my life.”


The Cahersiveen community was given just as little time to prepare. Locals discovered a few days ago that the Skellig Star – rebuilt in 2006 with the promise of attracting tourists by pool and other leisure facilities – has been turned into accommodation for asylum seekers.

Despite the lack of advice and concerns about losing business from the only large hotel in the city, people in Cahersiveen welcomed the team, bringing them clothes and toys. But when news broke that asylum seekers were ill and still shopping in local stores, people in the small town began to panic.

“Rural Ireland would like these people to live in the community … it would be more than welcome,” said Jack Fitzpatrick, president of the Cahersiveen and Business Alliance. “But that’s not the way to do it, to sink 100 people in a very congested hotel in the middle of a pandemic.”

The blast, which quickly spread to the hotel, infecting 25 people at its peak, was announced on May 20 by the Irish Health Service (HSE), but locals and asylum seekers continue to push for the center to close. as a united front in a series of demonstrations.

Under a system known as Direct Provision, which is overseen by the Irish Ministry of Justice and Equality and operated by private companies in profitable contracts, asylum seekers are housed in emergency accommodation while waiting to find out if they will be granted refugee status and a residence permit in the country.
It calls for the reform of the system, which was initially introduced as an emergency by the state in 2004. 1999 After a sudden rise in asylum applications, they came across sweeping, global protests over racial justice following the assassination of George Floyd in the United States.
Asylum seekers – many of whom come from African countries – have condemned the government’s direct prediction of “institutionalized racism”, arguing that no one else in the country is being treated in the same way.
While their appeal is evaluated, they are provided with free accommodation, food and utilities and access to health care and education, but have almost no autonomy and cannot choose where to live. And it is unable to apply for a work permit up to at least eight months in the application process – is expected to survive on a weekly allowance of € 38.80 ($ 43).
Commenting on the comparison between Direct Provision and the assassination of George Floyd earlier this month, The Prime Minister of Ireland Leon Varantar He acknowledged that while some emergency services were inferior and needed to be reassigned, “this is a state-of-the-art service that includes free accommodation, food, heat, lighting, healthcare, education and also some money.”

“It’s not the same as a man killed by the police.”

Decisions on asylum cases in Ireland can take years, which has been criticized by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which recently called for speeding up the process. And rejection rates are high – about 70%, according to recent data. Dozens of people have died waiting, according to a Freedom of Information request by The Irish Catholic.

It does not fit the purpose

Ireland Fianna failedFine Gael and the Green Party have agreed on a draft agreement to form a new coalition government on Monday, which, if ratified by members of the three parties, will end months of political stalemate in the country’s February elections. It will also provide an urgent need to reform the Irish asylum system. One of the key commitments described in the agreement is the commitment to end Immediate Welfare and replace it with a hosting policy that focuses on a non-profit approach.

Liam Thornton, a lecturer in law and an expert in Direct Provision, welcomed the decision with caution. “After 20 years of the government denying that anything was wrong, it’s interesting to see,” he told CNN. “While we haven’t been here before, this is the key application.”

Thornton tweeted“Direct Provision is one of the darkest chapters in the history of the Department of Justice. But people need to plan, manage, implement such awful things. A new mentality needs ASAP.”

Asylum seekers, human rights defenders and legal experts such as Thornton say the pandemic has shed light on the long-standing structural problems in the Irish asylum system. Against the backdrop of the Covid-19, the often crowded, bad conditions have become much more apparent.

“The HSE advises us, and everyone, on social distance, but you can’t make social distance where there is no space,” Misha said.

“We shared bedrooms with strangers. We shared the dining room. We shared the salt. We shared the lobby. We shared everything. And if you looked at the whole situation, you can’t really say it was appropriate. for the purpose. “

Residents of Skellig Star, locked in the center during quarantine, sing

Misha says she watched in horror as people began to get sick around her before being dragged into makeshift isolation rooms. The first suspected Covid-19 case at the center was reported as early as March 24, the Justice Department acknowledged, adding that the person was not positive. They did not say when the test was performed.

According to asylum seekers and a former director, asylum seekers’ trials began only weeks later in mid-April. After confirming positive cases, all Skellig Star residents were ordered to stay inside and quarantine.

“I have verifiable evidence for a written statement from Skellig Star to the Department of Justice and Equality on March 24 confirming a suspicious Covid-19 case. The resident was placed in solitary confinement on March 20, a day after arriving in Cahersiveen,” he said. Kerry, Norma Foley, told one special parliamentary committee hearing of the Covid-19 government’s response.

“The schedule may not be important for either the HSE or the Department of Justice and Equality, but it is very important for Skellig Star residents and the Cahersiveen community. This timetable categorically confirms that the Covid-19 was transported by bus at 18 March and March 19 at Skellig Star and the Cahersiveen community. “

In a statement to CNN on the schedule, the Department said it had made a “sincere mistake” because it had not received the March 24 announcement and that “there was no attempt by the Department … to deliberately surprise or conceal the facts. »In the outbreak.

“Our biggest fear is a second wave … We’re afraid it will spread like wildfire again in the hotel, but next time it may also pass through the community.”

Jack Fitzpatrick

After her roommate showed up positively and walked away to be isolated in another center, Misha believed that someone would move her so that the room could be disinfected. When no one came, she said she expressed her concerns to an HSE employee who told her there was no reason to worry.

“It was a shame for my intelligence,” Misha said. Test positive 10 days later.

The Irish Ministry of Justice told CNN that an HSE Development Officer was at the hotel to monitor the health of residents and staff throughout the epidemic, and now provides general support, including access to public health services and integration into the local community.

The Department said it continued to work closely with the directors of the HSE and Cahersiveen Center to ensure the well-being of all residents and staff, including offering all residents of their own bedrooms and providing improved cleaning services. The center also aims to provide self-service facilities so residents can cook in their rooms instead of eating together in a shared dining room.

Townbe, the company that operates Skellig and three other direct supply centers, did not respond to a request for comment from CNN. The Justice Department said it was unable to comment on the value of the contract with Townbe after just two years due to commercial sensitivity.

But the conditions described in detail by the Ministry of Justice are dramatically different from those described in CNN by two asylum seekers and a former director at the center.

Fears of a second outbreak

When Misha and the other asylum seekers arrived at Skellig Star in mid-March, they said they had found a holiday hotel that was not ready for visitors or that they were ready to face the corona. The central heating was broken, the bedrooms – which were smaller than normal – had not been thoroughly cleaned, no isolation rooms had been set up, no personal protective equipment was available and staff had not been inspected by An Garda Síochána, the national police service. of Ireland.

Bulelani Mfaco, an activist who has lived in Direct Provision since 2017, described in detail some of these conditions in one report on the asylum seekers’ movement in Ireland (MASI), formulating recommendations for broad system reforms. Top of his list: Guarantee of adequate standard of living that protects physical and mental health.
Residents of Skellig Star in quarantine move to locals protesting outside on May 7.

“Cahersiveen shows us that the model doesn’t work,” Mfaco said. “Giving vulnerable people to hoteliers who have no education. No thought has been given to the danger of gathering all these people, to take them by bus and bring them to a remote village away from any health care services.”

Jack Fitzpatrick and other locals fear that these healthcare services will be outdated if another epidemic strikes.

The nearest large hospital in Cahersiveen, which has a population of about 1,000, is 40 miles away. There are only two doctors in Cahersiveen, and an ambulance serves the entire remote Iveragh Peninsula, where the city is located.

“We were very lucky that no one died at the hotel and we managed to stop the virus from spreading to the community,” said Fitzpatrick.

“Our biggest fear is a second wave … We’re afraid it will spread like wildfire again in the hotel, but next time it may also pass through the community. That’s why we’re basically doing what we can to make them close down.” and move people to sort accommodation. “

People in the city are demanding the resignation of Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who is said to have misled the public about the Covid-19 explosion at Skellig Star.

“We need to be given at least a residence permit so that we can have our own accommodation, cook our own meals and keep ourselves and our families safe from the virus.”

Azvar Fouard

Flanagan apologized to the people of Cahersiveen, but said his department was unaware of the infection at the Dublin hotel before transporting asylum seekers from them.
Following the blast, Flanagan asked the former Secretary-General to review the Department’s response to Covid-19 in direct supply centers, such as Cahersiveen.

Ciaran Quinlan, of Cahersiveen, told CNN he was seeking an order to close the center. He says he wants to “help these people get their own accommodation, and keep them away from the unsuitable accommodation they are in.”

Azwar Fuard, an asylum seeker acting as a representative of the 70 residents who remain in the center, calls on Flanagan to grant the Skellig Star residents an amnesty to stay in Ireland.

Fouard, who came from Sri Lanka, moved from the same hotel as Misa to Dublin with his young family as they began to feel that they had settled down. Both Fouard and his wife had found work in the capital, made friends, and their three-year-old daughter had begun attending preschool. To move away from another life, he said, was like a double wound.

Now he says the family of three is largely confined to a 12ft x 13ft room, with a private bathroom and no cooking or washing facilities.

“We need to be given at least a residence permit so that we can have our own accommodation, cook our own meals and keep ourselves and our families safe from the virus,” Fuard said.

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