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Bulelani Mfaco of the Movement of Asylum Seekers of Ireland (MASI).

Figures show high numbers of asylum applications from Clare

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NEW figures showing that Clare is among the counties with the largest number of applications for asylum have prompted concerns over the relatively high concentration of people living in Direct Provision here.

With 378 applications from people living in this county, Clare ranks fourth in the latest data. Three counties – Cork, Meath and Kerry – have a greater number of applications.

According to Bulelani Mfaco of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), the number of applications reflects the relatively high number of Direct Provision centres located in Clare, as well as the level of overcrowding within them.

“There is a high concentration of asylum seekers in the county between the centres at Knockalisheen, Ennis and Lisdoonvarna,” said Mr Mfaco who is lives at the Knockalisheen centre in Meelick. “That is why the figure for Clare is so high. There is also the issue of the rate of occupancy of the centres to consider. At one point, there were as many as seven men in one bedroom in the centre in Ennis and action has since been taken in moving some people to accommodation in Galway.”

Mr Mfaco, who is also a member of the Expert Panel on Direct Provision, said the figures further underlined concerns for the health of asylum seekers during the pandemic. “With so many people sharing intimate living spaces, social distancing is impossible in some centres,” he said. “There is huge concern about the risk of Covid-19 and we have seen outbreaks more than once – in centres in Kerry and Kildare. I’m still sharing a room with a stranger. They go out to work during the day and I’ve no idea who they are in contact with. In the same way, they have no idea who I mix with. There are people sharing rooms in some centres who may not speak the same language and have no English. That makes communication very difficult and that’s an issue when it comes to limiting the risk of infection.”

Residents of Knockalisheen underwent routine Covid-19 tests this week, as part of a voluntary and free programme of screening that was rolled out nationally earlier this month. The initiative followed a report from The Refugee Council which found that more than half of those living in Direct Provision reported feeling unsafe during the pandemic. While welcoming the programme, Mr Mfaco said it was of limited use without other measures to tackle the virus.

“Really, it’s not helpful on its own,” Mr Mfaco said. “It’s almost useless, if you still have a situation where people are sharing bedrooms and bathrooms with strangers.”

Covid-19 has also been cited as one of the reasons why the pace of processing for asylum applications has slowed down. “The delays were there long before Covid-19,” Mr Mfaco asserted. “It’s unclear what is causing them. The waiting time for a first appointment with the International Protection Office (IPO), which is just to register your application officially, could be three or four months or longer, and that first interview is just the start of the process.”

The new data shows that Cork has 1,042 residents who are in the process of applying for asylum. Meath had 823 claims, while Kerry has 423.

Cork has 1,042 residents applying for asylum. Meath had 823 claims, while Kerry has 423.

Galway County has 15 applications, Donegal 21 and Cavan 35.

There are currently no applications for asylum from people based in Carlow, Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown or Kilkenny.

Department of Justice figures on new applications show a sharp decrease in applications since the pandemic began. There was a drop of 92% between April and June compared with the same period last year.

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