‘Ireland 2019: Voices from Direct Provision and the State that we are in’ by Stephanie Hanlon

Conference on Direct Provision

Ireland 2019: Voices from Direct Provision and the State that we are in

Background to the Conference:

On Friday 8th November, Carlow College, St. Patrick’s hosted a conference on the system of direct provision (DP) and the future of the asylum system in Ireland. The conference participants included academics, representatives from grassroots activist groups and was open to the public.

The main foci of the conference related specifically to the system of direct provision, the model of integration and rights that are afforded to asylum seekers through the perspectives of those with first-hand experience of Ireland’s direct provision system. We were joined by fantastic panel of speakers: author Alexia Press, activist and academic Evgeny Shtorn, representative of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), Bulelani Mfaco and VukašinNedeljković, activist and creator of “Asylum Archive”​. Alexia gave a poignant contribution about her experiences of alienation as a mother living in direct provision, the toil that institutionalized living took on her mental health and the barriers faced by her son in accessing third level education. Evgeny gave a dynamic speech about the double isolation faced by LGBTQ asylum seekers, and made an impassioned call for solidarity with the residents in DP. Bulelani gave a raw account of the material conditions in DP, discussed the formation of MASI and gave a discussion about how the reception services should be transformed.

Voices from Direct Provision was initiated to mark the birthday of a system that has been in place for 20 years too long. It took a step towards facilitating inclusive dialogue on key asylum issues in an interactive space thatemphasised the importance for civil society to take collective responsibility in advocating for a rights-based approach to the asylum process and the humane asylum system rooted solidarity and collective active citizenship.

Direct Provision and the State that we are in:

Direct Provision and Dispersal Scheme in October 1999, bed, board and accommodation is provided by the Reception and Integration Agency, in the form of hostels, holiday camps, guesthouses and mobile homes (Thornton, 2013). A weekly stipend of €19.60, also known as the Direct Provision Allowance, was provided to adults, and €9.60 per dependent child and was not increased for 16 years until 2016 and 2017. In 2019 the rate increased to €38.80 for an adult and €29.80 for a child, over 3 years after being one of the key recommendations set out in the McMahon Report.

Prior to the introduction of DP, asylum seekers had the right to access the labour market and receive social welfare payments, equivalent to that of an Irish citizen. The system of DP, however, removed that right and since then asylum seekers have been the subject of an increasing array of restrictions on many of their basic human rights (Thornton, 2015). The system of DP placed asylum seekers in designated accommodation centres dispersed around the country and has continued to operate for the past 21 years. DP has attracted severe criticism from UN bodies from as far back as 2011, and calls for the abolition of the system of direct provision have been ongoing since it first began operating nationally (O’Connor, 2003).

The system had no legislative basis until 2018 when the Government opted in to the EU’s Reception Directive (2013) and accepted the minimum European standards on the reception of asylum seekers. Prior to this the system of direct provision was administered at policy level, without a legal basis. The rights of asylum seekers are still not fully legislated for. As noted by Liam Thornton, “the rights of asylum seekers are granted by the exercise of administrative discretion, or on an ad-hoc basis by various Government departments.”

Direct Provision as a State of Ambiguity:

Michel Foucault’s essay “Of Other Spaces”, introduces the notion of heterotopia, or “counter-sites” that exist outside the usual order of things. Traditionally heterotopias are understood as sites of resistance, and how knowledge is produced through a clash of forces. They refer to places where people are placed when they do not conform to the norm, such as psychiatric hospitals, prisons or detention centres. In heterotopias the displacement of time for some sites can be matched by the disruption of space, from spaces that represent a quasi-eternity, like prisons, or are temporal, like holiday villages.

Vukašin provided the conference with an illustration of the various spatial ambiguities that capture the essence of direct provision as a “placeless place”, depicting the stifled pain of incarceration and deportability. It drew parallels with DP which has become distinctive by its space as a state of ambiguity and indeterminacy- a “non-place” (Áuge, 2008), characterised by the dislocation of established structures; by what it creates through separation and connects through division (Fanning, 2007).

It is in these spaces that individuals are drawn outside themselves, and the “erosion of their life” takes place, maintaining this legal liminality and the “in-between existence of moving in and out of protective states of administrative grace” (Chacon, 2015:715-6).

Reflections on Control and Resistance in DP:

Overall, the conference discussion helped to unpack the structures of the DP, illuminating it as an oppressive site and system; but furthermore, as a site of collective resistance with the potential to raise consciousness, liberate, and empower from a “placeless place”. The atmosphere changed with the power and intensity of each speaker – each speaker brought another insight into how oppression and injustice operate within the system, painting a new layer of the complex intersecting oppressions imposed by DP and ending with a more urgent demand for change. These personal accounts serve to illuminate the Irish State’s repertoire of detention, containment, governance, and made visible the decades silence and disavowed asylum experiences in Ireland.

An emotive day left on us on a note that resonates still: Further action must be taken immediately to address human rights abuses in direct provision and this action must be situated within informed ethical practice with a commitment to a humane system of asylum.

Further Readings:

Áuge, M. (2008) Non-places: An Introduction to Supermodernity, London: Verso.

Chachon, J. M. (2015) Producing Liminal Legality, Denver University Law Review, Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2015-99, 92(4), pp.709-767.

Fanning, B. (2002) “Racism and Social Change in the Republic of Ireland”, Manchester: University Press.

Lentin, R. (2012) Introduction: Immigration in Ireland and Migrant Led Activism, in Lentin, R. and Moreo, E. (eds.) Migrant Activism and Integration from Below in Ireland. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

O’ Connor, C. (2003) Direct Discrimination? An analysis of the system of Direct Provision in Ireland, FLAC Report, (July, 2003).

Foucault, M. (1984) Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias, (trans Miskowiec, J.), Architecture/Mouvement/Continuité, pp. 1-9.

Foucault, M. (1998) Different Spaces, in Aesthetics: The Essential Works 2, (Faubion, J. ed.), London: Allen Lane, pp. 175-85.

Thornton, L. (2013) Social Welfare and Asylum Law: An Anatomy of Exclusion, 20(2) Journal of Social Security Law,pp. 66-88.

Thornton, L. (2015) “#directprovision15: 15 Years of Direct Provision in Ireland – A Timeline”, Exploring Law, Exploring Rights, [online], Available at: https://liamthornton.ie/2015/04/06/directprovision15-15-years-of-direct-provision-in-ireland-a-timeline/

(2015) Working Group report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, Final Report, [online], Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/migrant-integration/librarydoc/mcmahon-report

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