Ireland’s capacity to house refugees and asylum seekers is questioned again as arrivals of people fleeing war and searching for refuge constantly increase. Even more, a Government proposal has been questioned suggesting full-time employed Direct Provision residents start paying their rent or the so-called fees for service.
According to Paddy Hennelly, the manager of Galway Direct Provision centre Great Western House, the proposal is “nothing new.” He explains how although the DP system doesn’t enforce people to move out once they are employed, it’s how it was meant to be since when asylum seekers were granted the right to work: “Only people that can’t financially sustain themselves have lawful access to Direct Provision. This proposal wants to encourage self-sufficient people to move out and make room for newcomers in need”, says Hennelly.
The non-ideal conditions of living in Direct Provision accommodations have often been brought up by the media, and whether they correspond or not to the reality of the centres, anyone could argue that living in private, own-managed accommodation is better, especially if you’re asked to pay for it. But what the manager of Great Western House pointed out raises a simple question: why doesn’t the Government revise the whole system, and put in place a process of actual integration in the Irish society once the asylum seeker no longer needs DP support, instead of proposing quick fixes that fall on the people?
The Irish state currently not being able to provide decent housing options to its citizens may be part of the answer.
What’s wrong with the proposal is its target: if the state is unable to manage the influx of people asking to be welcomed under international law, that’s not on the people. “This sends out the signal ‘Oh, those in Direct Provision get everything. The rest of us are being discriminated against” said People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith in an interview with Newstalk, and we saw how in the rest of Europe creating divisive narrative and discontent between citizens and resident refugees only led to disruptive governments.
When making decisions on these people’s lives, governments often forget that nothing is easy when you’re not at home and a home is no more an option. Being employed in a new country doesn’t necessarily mean feeling happy and free. If it can be legitimate to ask them to contribute to their “new home” maintenance, it should also be legitimate for them to ask for a decent “new life.” This involves, as for every Irish citizen, the possibility of finding a house on their own without struggling too much, a job that doesn’t underpay them or take hours on a bus to be reached, and a healthy work-life balance where people consider them neighbours and not a threat.
The wrong targeting also follows the usual double standard: although employed Ukrainians might be asked to pay for the places they’re hosted in as well, the general talk on Direct Provision long-time residents is only happening now in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis, suggesting how this is a situation of urgency, but has never been before. The message seems to be “they are in need now, either you help us with that, or we stop helping you”.