Frustration and loneliness in direct provision: ‘It’s a wasting of life, wasting of years’

Thousands spend years waiting for asylum in Ireland - a new report shares some of their stories

direct provision

Stephanie Nganga (5) and Tatiana Nganga (8) take part in an April 2015 protest against direct provision | Photo: RollingNews.ie

Poor mental health, isolation and feelings of disempowerment are among the main challenges facing people living in direct provision, according to a new report.

The Irish Refugee Council study collates testimonies from 22 former asylum seekers who spent time in the system.

Thousands of people continue to wait in centres, many for several years, as their applications are processed.

And those that manage to secure refugee status paint bleak pictures of their time in limbo: years with little support, dignity or sense of meaning. 

One person interviewed as part of the research recounted: "To me, it was so difficult just to wake up without knowing what I can plan for tomorrow, so for me it was so, so bad to the extent that it was stressing me every second.”

Another participant spoke about trying to distract himself: "My daily routine [was] just for me to miss trouble, not to lose hope, not to be…

"On a daily basis, I do a lot of voluntary job, just keeping myself busy. I do a lot of training."

Many others compared direct provision to a prison, with one saying: "It’s just like you’re under pressure - like, it’s just like an open jail, an open prison...

"You can go out but the way it is, it’s just like a prison, you know, because morning to evening, there’s a camera. Everything you have to beg."

One person remembered regularly feeling infantilised: "They are giving the food, they are giving the Pampers, they are giving the baby food, they are giving everything…

“People decide your life for you. They decide when you eat, when you go out."

Another said: "It’s just like wasting of life, wasting of years.

"You wake up in the morning. All you have to do is go for your breakfast.

"Go back to your room, sleep or watch TV. Come for your lunch. Same thing everyday."

As well as highlighting the difficulties experienced in direct provision, the report examines barriers faced by asylum seekers transitioning to life in the wider community.

It says former direct provision residents struggle to access services and source accommodation, with uncertainty over the future leading some to resort to self-harm.

Recommendations

Blessing Moyo, a former asylum seeker who worked as a peer researcher on the project, said: “If you mention to the landlord that you’re on rent supplement they want nothing to do with you, which to me is discrimination.

“We all need houses for our family. It’s not my fault that I am not working. I have been denied the right to work for seven years now."

Dr Muireann Ní Raghallaigh, one of the report's authors, added: “Asylum seekers receive only €19.10 while in direct provision and for the majority this continues to be their payment as they look for accommodation following the granting of their status.

“Although discretionary exceptional needs payments can be made available, most of the study’s participants did not receive them.  

“As a result, people were often forced to borrow money and get into debt in order to be able to move out of direct provision.”

The study calls for an end to direct provision, as well as greater support for asylum seekers transitioning out of the system.

Measures advocated to support residents in the short-term include the provision of self-catering facilities, increased payments, quicker processing times for asylum applications, and permission to study and to work.

The report recommends that those granted refugee status be provided with clear written advice on exiting the system, as well a “realistic timeframe” for moving out of direct provision hostels.

Former asylum seekers should also be given resettlement grants and normal social welfare allowances, it says.

Interviews with research participants were carried out between May and August 2015. The full report can be read here.