MICHAEL WOLSEY: Why direct provision should be fixed, not scrapped
Pierrot Ngadi was among the first people to live in a direct provision centre in Ireland. The journalist and his wife arrived at Rosslare in April 2000, fleeing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where he had good reason to believe the mad dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, was threatening his life.
The couple had thought of going to France, a natural bolthole for refugees from the Congo, where French is the second language. They chose Ireland because of the good reputation Irish UN troops had established in their native country.
Mr Ngadi and his wife lived at the recently opened direct-provision centre in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow. But not for long.
Nine months after arrival, Pierrot’s case had been processed. The couple were recognised as refugees and they moved into a flat in Dublin. He studied for a master’s degree at TCD and now works in a hospital.
Mr Ngadi’s case is a good example of the how the asylum system should function.
He and his wife were refugees in the sense that most of us understand the word: their liberty and lives were under threat in a country where the rule of law did not apply and basic human rights were not protected.
Once the Irish authorities had established that Mr Ngadi’s story was true, they had no reason to deny him refuge in Ireland. While they checked, he lived at Rathdrum in a centre that provided perfectly adequate accommodation for a short stay.
Mr Ngadi’s story is worth reflecting on at a time when direct provision centres are being vilified as though they were racially-inspired prison camps.
The centres were not and are not racist. They were established with good intentions but not for long stays. They were intended to house people like Mr Ngadi for the short time needed to establish his bona fides.
Nowadays people can stay for years in direct provision centres as their cases trundle through the labyrinth of our legal and judicial system. The reason it takes so long is that many of the applicants are not refugees in the sense that most of us understand the word. They are economic migrants, looking for a better life, and they spend years fighting the system as they try to prove otherwise
I do not begrudge them the future they seek but we need to have some clear rules about who can come here to escape poverty and how we deal with them. We need to enforce those rules strictly and quickly.
And we need to separate economic migrants from those who are fleeing war or persecution – the refugees for whom the direct provision system was designed and with whom it could still cope if it were not swamped.
More than 7,000 people are living in direct provision centres at the moment. I have heard several politicians calling for their closure. Some have demanded that they be shut ‘immediately’.
They do not say what should happen to the residents after this immediate closure. Should they be pushed into shanty towns, as has happened in France? Stuck under canvass in refugee camps as has happened in Greece? Or housed in low-grade accommodation in urban ghettos, as has happened in Britain?
And they do not say what should happen to the hundred or so asylum seekers who will arrive here next month and every month.
It is a small number but if they are not to be housed in direct provision centres, where will they go?
The direct provision system is far from perfect but before we throw it out I would like to hear someone come up with a sensible, workable alternative.