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28th Apr 2020

“Nobody feels safe here.” Cahersiveen Direct Provision resident on Covid-19 outbreak

Rob O'Hanrahan

“We don’t want to climb on top of the trees so that the government can know that we are really serious and we want to be moved.”

A resident at the Direct Provision centre in Kerry struck by an outbreak of Covid-19 claims no one was tested before multiple centres were moved to one location in the south of the country. She has also backed up a statement from an advocacy group that the facility hasn’t been properly disinfected since the outbreak and the first resident to contract the virus was not initially isolated and left to be cared for by their roommate. The Department of Justice has refuted some of these claims.

Over 20 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in one Direct Provision centre in the south of the country, according to one resident of the centre. The cases at the Skellig Star Hotel centre in Cahersiveen include a 9 year-old child. The Department of Health confirmed to JOE this evening that there are currently five clusters of Covid-19 in Direct Provision centres; two in the east of the country and one each in the south, west and in the midlands.

Concerns about the living conditions in Direct Provision, which do not necessarily lend themselves to the appropriate social distancing measures needed to contain the spread of the virus, were brought to the government’s attention a number of weeks ago. 

Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) raised concerns to the Department of Justice in a statement released over two weeks ago on the 11th of April. In it, they labelled the Department’s response to the virus in terms of Direct Provision centres as “shambolic”, and said they were “appalled by the recklessness displayed by the Department of Justice and Equality in responding to Covid19 in Direct Provision.” They also said that the measures that had been taken fell far short of what was required to keep residents safe; “Putting a sticker on the floor in a tiny kitchen shared by 19 men who also have to share bedrooms and use communal toilets does not give asylum seekers assurance that they are protected.” 

MASI also wrote to An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Health Simon Harris and the leaders of all major Irish political parties on Sunday 26th April raising specific concerns about the Cahersiveen centre, stating that “when the first asylum seeker showed symptoms of Covid-19, the staff did not isolate them immediately. Her roommate was left to nurse her until MASI raised the alarm.” In a statement issued to JOE, the Department of Justice said “The established procedure across all Centres where a person is suspected of having the virus or is confirmed as having the virus, is that, where advised by Public Health, they are moved to a dedicated offsite self-isolation facility which has medical personnel attached.

“Supports are available for the duration of their period of quarantine until such time as the HSE considers that they can return to their centre with no risk to other residents or staff.”

MASI have also claimed that “there were no measures taken to disinfect the building in the Skellig Star Hotel”. This was backed up by a resident in the centre itself. The Department of Justice have refuted this however, saying in that statement issued to JOE that “(Direct Provision) Centre managers throughout the State have been advised to increase the standard and frequency of cleaning throughout the centres, paying particular attention to communal areas.

“In this regard, the centre staff in Caherciveen are carrying out regular cleaning of all communal areas and additionally are regularly sanitising door handles, lifts, hard surfaces etc. In all of our accommodation centres, any room where a person that has tested positive for COVID-19 has been staying would be deep cleaned.”

Mariam Namirembe, a current resident at the centre in Cahersiveen, spoke to JOE about the cluster breakout in the centre. She said that no one feels secure in the centre at the moment; “some (test) results are hidden from us, they don’t even tell us that ‘this one is positive’. So we just… count the names. Approximately we have counted 22 (cases). 

“I don’t feel safe at all. At all. At all. Not only me, everybody. Nobody feels safe here. I don’t feel safe, just like everybody here.” 

Mariam was part of a group of over 60 residents in a Direct Provision centre in Ballsbridge who were moved by the Department due to the Covid-19 outbreak. They were given 24 hours notice before moving to the centre in Cahersiveen, were a number of other centres had also been relocated to. Mariam says that no one was tested for Covid-19 before being moved; “the officials that were sent to us… kept telling us ‘we are moving you out of here because Dublin now is a place with a lot of cases of Covid, so we are taking you out of here as an emergency, we don’t want you to get Covid‘, that is what was echoing in our ears. 

“If they had given us a chance to be tested first before coming here, maybe it would be different from now. But look at us. We were not tested, we were not given any notice that we were coming here”, Mariam continued.

 The Department of Justice told JOE that “any queries relating to the testing of any person for COVID-19 is a matter for the HSE”. At the daily briefing at the Department of Health this evening, Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer of the HSE, told JOE that it would not have been procedure during this time to test asymptomatic patients.

Despite repeated protests at the centre in recent days, only those with Covid-19 have been moved to self-isolation units. Mariam says the government needs to move people out of the centre; “The government is supposed to treat this issue as an emergency. First of all, they moved us from Dublin saying they were bringing us here for safety and it was an emergency. We requested the government should treat this as an emergency again and remove us from here immediately. 

“We don’t want to climb on top of the trees so that they can know that we are really serious and we want to be moved. Let the government move us. We know they are kind enough, we know they can be considerate, we know they can do it. They are capable of moving us even now. 

The Skellig Star Hotel did not respond to queries from JOE by the time of publication.

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