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Fears voiced over Covid-19 risk at Clare Direct Provision centres

CONCERNS continue about the difficulty of social distancing and self-isolation for residents of Direct Provision centres who believe that their living conditions are putting them, and those they work with in the wider community, in danger.

While the Department of Justice has unveiled a number of measures aimed at addressing the issue, a Clare-based spokesperson for the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) continues to seek assurances that further support will be provided. The fact that a number of those living in Direct Provision centres work in the healthcare sector, combined with the heightened risk to those in the profession, mean more action is needed, according to Bulelani Mfaco of MASI.

“You would generally expect that those who work with vulnerable elderly people in healthcare settings like nursing homes to be living in secluded areas, in their own isolation zones, but that is not happening in many Direct Provision centres,” he said. “Instead, in some situations, you have up to 19 people sharing a living area.”

Since the pandemic was declared last month, Mr Mfaco has been to the forefront in raising concerns about a potential outbreak of Covid-19 in a Direct Provision setting, due to the conditions. Other refugee support groups, in addition to MASI, have warned of the threat to those living in 39 centres, including the three in Clare.

In response, the Department of Justice said it has secured an additional 650 beds for asylum seekers, in order to facilitate social distancing and, in some cases, self-isolation. In a statement Minister David Stanton acknowledged the anxiety being experienced by those living in Direct Provision. “This is a very worrying time for everyone and people who are in the State seeking international protection are no different,” he said. “This is why the Department wrote to all residents, centre managers and staff members … to reassure them that their welfare is of paramount importance to us. They were also informed that steps are being taken to protect the most vulnerable. I am pleased that the negotiations, opened in recent weeks, have reached a successful conclusion and that we are now able to provide more details.  The implementation of these new measures will be commenced without delay.”

Despite the assurance, Mr Mfaco said that more needed to be done. “We’ve already had cases of Covid-19 in direct provision centres,” Mr Mfaco said. “And in those very same direct provision centres there are people who go to work in healthcare or in nursing homes. It’s a very difficult situation for those people.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has also confirmed that 242 asylum seekers deemed vulnerable to Coronavirus are being moved to new accommodation in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

Over 100 asylum seekers will move to a hotel in Dublin, 64 to a hotel in Galway and another 64 to a hotel in Cork.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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