The System of Allowing Asylum Seekers to Languish in Ireland is the Magdalene Laundries of Our Time

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Gavan Titley has an excellent article in the Guardian which makes a comparison with the Irish state’s responsibility for the conditions suffered by the occupants of Ireland’s gulag system of laundries and industrial schools and the immoral inadequacy of the direct provision system for asylum seekers and the regularity of deportation.

“At present, approximately 6,000 people live in direct provision accommodation centres in Ireland while their asylum claims are processed. Originally introduced as an “emergency measure” in 1999 to speed up asylum determination procedures, over a third have been in this system for more than three years, and waits of seven or eight years are not unheard of. Unable to access education, employment or frequently even to cook for themselves, asylum-seekers are accommodated and fed, and granted an adult weekly allowance of €19.10 (rates that have not changed in real terms since their introduction over a decade ago). For this other population, also corralled and controlled outside of society, it is unsurprising that anxiety, depression and ill health are widespread.

No comparison should obscure the particular forms of violence and suffering that mark different experiences. But the parallels are politically important. Ill health scarred the lives of children in industrial schools – a recent report has documented the appalling conditions and health problems of the children of asylum seekers, who constitute one-third of the population of the direct provision system. According to O’Toole, thousands of people died each decade in the neglectful conditions of psychiatric hospitals – in September Emmanuel Marcel Landa became the latest person to die in the direct provision system, and as Sue Conlon of the Irish Refugee Council noted, “the impact of long delays, lengthy residence in direct provision accommodation and the real threat of deportation may well have been a contributory factor in Mr Landa’s untimely death”.

Details of the misery endured by those seeking application for asylum under the Irish system are recounted in this politico.ie piece published to highlight the launch of the Anti-Deportation Ireland report which includes this account from Aisha Yusuff who describes the pain inflicted on her family by the deportation of her husband:

“We had our bags packed awaiting their arrival, but to our surprise the immigration police said they were here just for my husband. They only had his travel documents. From people’s stories about deportation, we knew it was best not to argue with them. As my husband was been taken away, my daughter, who was almost two then, started crying for her daddy, and that she wants to go with him. As fate would have it, my husband was returned back to Ireland because the plane was faulty. I remember the first thing he said to me was that “God doesn’t want me to miss our daughter’s birthday.”

He was deported a month and a half later. As a result my daughter that started talking at nine months, stopped talking.”

A commentor on Gavan’s piece notes correctly that Ireland is the worst in Europe when it comes to accepting asylum applications.

“Asylum seekers are treated poorly in Ireland. The country has one of Europe’s worst records on granting refugee-status. Only Greece ratifies a lower number of asylum applications. The UK accepts 26.9% (30% after appeals). In Ireland 7.8% of applications are accepted.”

And another commentor re-emphasizes the political parallels between the Magdalene system and those the system asylum seekers have to endure very well – in both cases the responsibility lies with the state. This is not a situation that occurs by accident. The policies are put in place are political, ideological, systemic and consciously done.

“The UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) recommendation on the Magdalene Laundries focused, in part, on the State’s failure to supervise, regulate and inspect institutions in which women’s Human Rights were routinely violated. This “act of omission” on the State’s part is what the JFM group hopes will be “clarified” by the Inter-Departmental Committee’s final report. We anticipate that the report will expose the State’s failure to apply the Factory Acts (1955) to these institutions (i.e., working conditions, health and safety, etc.), the failure to ensure wages were paid and that PRSI with-holdings and contributions were made in accordance with statutory pension requirements, the failure to ensure young girls received an education, the failure to ensure death certificates were provided for deceased Magdalene women. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the State also sent women to the Laundries and ensured they remained there, and the fact that the State supported the commercial laundry business with direct and indirect funding, it is crucial to excavate and fully understand the State’s past failures (omissions) if Ireland as a society is to ensure these failures are not repeated in the present.

With this in mind, then, I suggest that the comparison between the Magdalene Laundries and the accommodation centers is not only appropriate but necessary. In a nut shell, if the State is not held accountable for its failure to protect the Human Rights of marginalized citizens in the past, should we expect it to care about protecting the Human Rights of marginalized populations today?”

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One Response

  1. Xianhasa

    October 10, 2012 9:54 pm

    The Guardian article was most interesting. Towards the end it states ‘a hugely costly and ineffective deportation system':- and that may be exactly what a great deal of these soul-destroying delays are about. The deathly torpor of languishing in these stifling, confined, time-reagulated , unlovely, dormitoried accommodations will build up a mis-trust of the complete Irish State. But to whom actually does this ‘hugely costly’ aspect of their incarceration actually accrue? To the: Community Employment ‘bureaucracy'; the Soc.Welfare ‘bureaucracy'; the Landlords/Investors to whom (probably maximum/and assured leases) the State pays; the myriad of ‘cooks’ (who simply do not want, as it is not in their own interests, to comprehend the ignominy they are subjecting these able-bodied people to); the cleaners, social-workers, nurses probably: all are getting their cut out of the long delays of these people.
    And in a strictured way the asylum seeker/refugee may perceive that they had better not speak or infer any opinions on the injustice of their detention, in so possibly a judgemental atmosphere.
    The Irish ‘never learn’?; or maybe they just do not want to.