The misconduct of Irish institutionalisation is being repeated under our noses

The misconduct of Irish institutionalisation is being repeated under our noses



The misconduct of Irish institutionalisation is being repeated under our noses

the Taoiseach and the tainaiste in discussion
ellen mcveigh

Sophia Finucane

28th January 2021


In the last few weeks, the Irish media has been reacting to the devastating Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation report, which revealed to the public that 9,000 children, or 1 in 7, died in the 18 institutions which were investigated. People in these institutions received extreme mistreatment in many cases, prompting terms like “never again” and the concept of Ireland “having learned its lesson” to float around the media. However, on this note, one part of the report stands-out in particular:


“The government could consider earmarking a specific fund for current disadvantaged children (for example, children in direct provision, or children with special needs and naming it in honour of, say, the children who died in Tuam)”


Shockingly, what can be taken from this is that the State clearly does not see that it is oxymoronic to perform a charitable act to those disadvantaged in Direct Provision, given that they are “disadvantaged” precisely because of the State’s handling of the system, as opposed to disadvantage being some inherent part of a child in Direct Provision’s character. The fact that this would be in the report rings significant alarm bells for the sheer lack of consideration the State has about the impact of its unwillingness to address the appalling quality of life for those living in the Direct Provision system.


Initially established as an interim system that would accommodate people for no more than 6 months, Direct Provision has had some residents suffering its inadequate conditions for 10 or more years. Much like the Mother and Baby Homes, for years in Irish media little to nothing has been said regarding the issue. Organisations like MASI (the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland), who have been working to end DP for many years now need support, because it is clear that there is still not enough being done to end the system, despite the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights calling it out as a severe violation of human rights.




“the State clearly does not see that it is oxymoronic to perform a charitable act to those disadvantaged in Direct Provision, given that they are “disadvantaged” precisely because of the State’s handling of the system




It is crucial to highlight the similarities between the situation in Mother and Baby Homes, which we say we will never repeat, and the cruel form of institutionalisation that is occurring under our noses. To some reading, this message could sound repetitive, but I encounter people every day who are not even aware of the system, or at least have no idea of what goes on within its walls.


So here it is: From the get-go, entry to Ireland is an unpleasant experience for people in need of international protection. There is a heavy application form to fill out with no legal representative and frequently no interpreter, despite some individuals being near state of collapse upon entering the country. If refused on first instance, applicants do not have the option to apply for right to work, and are left with a measly €38.80 weekly allowance. The appeal system has left individuals sharing inadequate accommodation like this for years.


At least 1,700 people living in Direct Provision cannot physically distance themselves from others. Many people are sharing rooms with strangers.  The executive summary of the Mother and Baby Homes Report mentions that in 1921, women in certain homes ate their meals squatting on the floor, and meals were unfit for consumption. No major improvements were carried out until the 1950s, and even by the 1970s, many women disliked the fact that meals occurred only at fixed times and they had no choice about their food. This total lack of agency in such a basic human right as nutrition can compare with Direct Provision. Participants interviewed for a NASC study explained how food is often not culturally suitable and does not cater for special dietary needs. There is distinct dissatisfaction with children regarding school lunches and the size/appropriate nutrition of daily meals. Improvements have allegedly been made following the study, but recent photos shared on social media highlight how the food is still far from nutritionally adequate in Direct Provision.



Daily lunch in Direct Provision (MASI on Twitter, 2020)


We have all read in disgust in recent weeks about the quality of the life of a child in Mother and Baby Homes. Without making light at all of the horrendous treatment that occurred in the system, it is important to highlight that we are not above mistreating children on a State-level in Ireland in 2021. Specific concerns around children in Direct Provision include inadequate supports for mental health and education, the inability to participate in extra-curricular activities due to lack of funds, a lack of transport to see friends and a lack of access to further education. The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) reports that 14% of all children in DP were referred to the Child and Family Agency (TUSLA) in a single year, compared to 1.6% in the general population of children. Referral reasons included physical abuse, domestic violence and proximity of unknown adults. The lack of a homework club for secondary schools was seen as a particular problem for young people living in Direct Provision centres who experienced difficulties completing homework due to space restrictions, noise and lack of computers and Wi-Fi.  A resident, Donnah Vuma, told the Oireachtas Committee for Justice and Equality in May 2019 about how her children could not take part in extra-curricular activities or join school trips. Her nine-year-old son was showing signs of depression: “He has come to me and said, ‘sometimes when I feel sad I feel like killing myself’.” There are countless cases of children under the care of the Irish State feeling similarly. It is completely unacceptable, and an utter disrespect to the memory of those children in Tuam, for the State to be so blind as to recommend donating funds in their name to children whose lives it is directly harming.


While a government white paper on replacing Direct Provision was due to be drafted by the end of the 2020, activist groups were worried from early on that a lack of political will would mean major delays in passing legislation. It has already been delayed as of January 2021. One argument for complacency is that there are no alternatives for those seeking international protection in Ireland. However, case studies from Portugal, Scotland and Sweden  illustrate the possibility of a humane process for asylum seekers. The key to success in each of these systems is a focus on social integration. In these countries, asylum seekers are given opportunities to engage with local communities. We know there are alternate models – so why hasn’t Ireland sought them in the last 22 years? Well, looking at Ireland’s history of retrospectively apologising for State-influenced human rights violations that were going on under our noses, like the Mother and Baby Homes, it is clear that complacency could be repeated with Direct Provision. Lobby your politicians; contact Roderic O’Gorman as Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; speak up about this injustice. We do not want to look back as a nation with shame again in 20 year’s time, when it is too late for real justice.





Featured photo by Dail Eireann on Flickr



The rapidly expanding wage gap between locals and migrants

The rapidly expanding wage gap between locals and migrants



The rapidly expanding wage gap between locals and migrants 

a waitress in a European cafe
ellen mcveigh

Ciara Mulgrew 

27th January 2021



Migrants earn significantly less than locals in high-income countries (HICs), as shown in a recent study by the International Labour Organisation.


It is reported that isome HICs, such as Cyprus, locals receive a wage up to 42% higher than migrants, while the average in most HICs is 12.6%. On the other hand, in low-income countries, migrants receive an average of 17.3% higher earnings per hour when compared with locals.


In HICs, migrants often face insecure, temporary, or part-time employment contracts. They are repeatedly met with discrimination, prejudices, and inequalities which are deeply ingrained in our economy and society as a whole. They are often considered low-skilled labour or under-educated by employers, and therefore, it is deemed acceptable to underpay them for their work. Additionally, many migrants work in occupations that do not match their skill set. This is largely because of an inability of employers to recognise the qualifications migrants hold. However, in low-income countries, migrants are considered highly skilled and educated expats.


The wage gap between locals and migrants has been widening for several years now, with an increase of around 25% in the last 5 years. Reports state it may have been accelerated due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to wage specialist Rosalia Vasquez-Alvarez, HICs should expect to endure a major wage depression due to the ongoing pandemicConsequently, migrants are expected to be hit hardest by this depression due to the industries they commonly work in being heavily impacted. Among these industries is the food industry, where there has been a number of outbreaks in meat processing plants. As a resultmigrants have reported been segregated from the rest of the work force or losing their job.




A large portion of this wage gap cannot be explained by a lack of education, skills, or experience, and is thought to be due to discriminatory tendencies in the workplace.”




The ILO further reports that women migrants face a wage gap twice as large compared to male migrants. The wage gap between men and women is a global issue of gender inequality that people have been fighting to change for years. However, the fight has been unsuccessful in some areas. Therefore, a woman who is also classified as a migrant must carry the burden of earning a low wage based on gender inequalities as well as racial injustices.


Rosalia Vasquez-Alvarez adds that the private healthcare sector is among the worst sectors affected by the pandemic and it employs a substantial number of migrant women. The study shows migrant women in the private healthcare sector earn an average of 19.6% less than their local colleagues. This is a considerable amount less than the average among most migrants in HICs.


A large portion of this wage gap cannot be explained by a lack of education, skills, or experience, and is thought to be due to discriminatory tendencies in the workplace. If we could remove this unexplained portion, then we could almost eliminate the wage gap completely, for both men and women. It is paramount that we address this issue to reduce income inequalities between households, genders, and nationalities.





Featured photo by Tatiana El-Bakri on Flickr



Voices from Direct Provision: An Online Conference 2020

Voices from Direct Provision: An Online Conference 2020


Voices from Direct Provision: An Online Conference 2020

“Voices from Direct Provision Conference
Aoife Burke

Aoife Burke

2nd November 2020

On 27 September, the organisation Abolish Direct Provision Ireland (ADPI) held an online conference titled “Voices from Direct Provision.” The purpose of the event, which was chaired by ADPI volunteer Louise, was to raise awareness about the adversity experienced by asylum seekers and provide a platform to share their stories. As well as those currently living through Direct Provision, speakers included activists and experts who shed a light on the major human rights violations perpetrated by the system. The conference was structured around three main questions; “What is Direct Provision?”, “Can it be reformed?” and “What are the alternatives?”.


The event kicked off with an informative outline of Direct Provision and its incompatibility with human rights. Karina Savchuck, a volunteer with ADPI, explained how the fundamental right to seek asylum is undermined by the lengthy and punitive nature of the Direct Provision system. Although Direct Provision is supposed to be a temporary accommodation system, the majority of residents live in these centres for years. Karina explained that asylum seekers are at risk of numerous human rights violations during their time in Direct Provision. These include the right to a private and family life, which is often undermined by crowded and inappropriate living arrangements and the right to health, which is under particular threat today due to the inability of residents to self-isolate. Karina also highlighted how, based on the broad interpretation of liberty in human rights instruments, Direct Provision amounts to arbitrary detention. Overall, the discussion highlighted the complete failure of the Irish state to protect the rights of asylum seekers.


Direct Provision cramped conditions

Image from Millstreet Direct Provision Centre demonstrates cramped living conditions (Say No to Direct Provision in Ireland, October 2020).

The extent of these human rights violations was further illustrated by James, Preet and Edita, all of whom are residents of Direct Provision and bravely shared their stories. James recounted the outrageous treatment he and other residents endured from the manager at their centre. He spoke about how the manager, who is paid €100 a night per person, belittled and disrespected residents and used the threat of reporting people to RIA as a way to exercise control. Furthermore, despite the significant number of Muslims at the centre, the manager refused to let residents alter their meal times during Ramadan. This blatant attack on freedom of religious expression prompted residents of all faiths to stand up and demand their rights, however, nothing was changed. James explained how when residents complained, they were told to go and “see the Irish people sleeping outside”. James believes this kind of abusive treatment is killing people.


Preet, who has been living in Direct Provision for over two years, discussed the challenges facing LGBT asylum seekers. He spoke about how as a gay man he endured traumatic homophobic bullying in his centre. Though he reported this issue to managers, it wasn’t addressed and Preet continues to be victimised daily. Living in a rural, isolated area, he has little access to LGBT networks or resources. He explained how with no protection from harassment and with limited access to support systems, LGBT asylum seekers are disproportionately harmed by Direct Provision. Preet spoke about the toll these conditions had taken on him and suggested that an LGBT centre be set up in Dublin, where residents would have access to necessary services. Edita also shared the severe difficulties she has faced in Direct Provision, where she lives with her two elderly parents. She described the inadequate food they were given which sometimes included undercooked meat. She also highlighted the lack of access to cleaning facilities; although her centre accommodates over 150 asylum seekers, there are only three working washing machines. Edita and her fellow residents also endure cruel and sarcastic comments from the manager who, in her words, treats asylum seekers like they are bad people.

food in direct provision

Food in direct provision is often described to be below-par with a greater emphasis on profit margins (Say No to Direct Provision in Ireland, August 2020)

Next up in the conference, there was a discussion about the feasibility of reforming Direct Provision. Eoin, one of the founders of ADPI, explained the failures of attempted reform in the past. In 2014, after a series of protests by asylum seekers, the government established a working group on the issue which published its report in June 2015. However, by 2017 less than half of the recommendations of the report were implemented. After continued campaigning and protests, an expert group was established on Direct Provision in 2019. While this group has not yet published their report, there have already been concerns about a lack of consultation with asylum-seekers. For instance, there was no engagement with the asylum seekers in the Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre who went on hunger strike in July. Eoin also highlighted that since attempts at reform began, the number of direct provision centres in Ireland has continued to grow, the costs of these centres is increasing and the deaths of asylum seekers in the system have continued. Julie Currie of Unite the Union also spoke on the reform process. She argued that the 2019 Expert Group was an unnecessary delay in progress, as the conditions in Direct Provision are the same as if not worse than those reported in 2015. Julie also warned that while a government white paper on replacing Direct Provision is due to be drafted by the end of the year, a lack of political will could mean major delays in passing legislation. She advised people to mobilise and put pressure on their politicians to make this issue a priority.


This informative discussion was followed by personal insights into Direct Provision by Nasreen and Flutura. Nasreen explained how asylum seekers in her centre were in practice denied the right to work. Her centre was in a remote area with little to no employment opportunities and due to lack of access to transport, residents couldn’t find employment elsewhere. Without job opportunities, residents were completely reliant on an inadequate weekly allowance of less than 40 euro and the food provided in the centre, which was often rancid. Despite these conditions, the managers told residents that they were taking away from Irish people who needed it more. Flutura, who is living in Direct Provision with her husband and baby, shared similar concerns about access to work and treatment by managers. She also spoke about her fears of deportation. She argued that a judge cannot decide whether the threat that someone faces in their country of origin is real; only asylum seekers themselves can know their fear.



In July, more than 30 residents went on hunger strike in protest at conditions in Cahersiveen centre, Co. Kerry (Say No to Direct Provision in Ireland, July 2020)

This informative discussion was followed by personal insights into Direct Provision by Nasreen and Flutura. Nasreen explained how asylum seekers in her centre were in practice denied the right to work. Her centre was in a remote area with little to no employment opportunities and due to lack of access to transport, residents couldn’t find employment elsewhere. Without job opportunities, residents were completely reliant on an inadequate weekly allowance of less than 40 euro and the food provided in the centre, which was often rancid. Despite these conditions, the managers told residents that they were taking away from Irish people who needed it more. Flutura, who is living in Direct Provision with her husband and baby, shared similar concerns about access to work and treatment by managers. She also spoke about her fears of deportation. She argued that a judge cannot decide whether the threat that someone faces in their country of origin is real; only asylum seekers themselves can know their fear.  


Following these speakers, there was a discussion on the alternatives to Direct Provision presented by law graduate Katie Prendergast. Case studies from Portugal, Scotland and Sweden were referenced to illustrate the possibility of a humane process for asylum seekers. The key to success in each of these systems is a focus on social integration. In these countries’ asylum seekers are not shoved to the margins of society, but are given opportunities to engage with local communities. In particular, Sweden’s system allows for most asylum seekers to be accommodated in private housing, work and fully participate in society. This approach means that asylum seekers can find a sense of community and belonging while their applications are being processed. This is in direct contrast to the Irish system, where integration is actively undermined by state procedures. The importance of integration was further highlighted by Linda, who spoke about her work combatting social exclusion through the Friendship Project. This is a programme that matches local people with asylum seekers in the hopes of promoting integration and mutual cultural sharing. The project, which has now gone online, is particularly valuable during the pandemic, when asylum seekers are experiencing increased isolation and adversity.  


The last speakers of the event, David and Fortune, are facing deportation after over four years in Ireland; they shared the struggles and fears and highlighted the importance of finding a support system while in Direct Provision. Fortune described the difficulties and injustice they faced throughout their journey in seeking asylum. The couple’s solicitor was confident they had a strong case, however, in her interview Fortune felt she was deemed a liar before she even spoke and was unfairly scrutinised over petty details. Fortune described the pain and fear that has persisted every day since the deportation order came and how she feels they are now only hanging on by a thread. David echoed her fears, saying receiving the letter was like someone telling you your death is prepared and you just need to get in the box and be buried. Despite everything, David reminded us that it’s not over until it’s over. He told us about the importance of being part of a community and said that showing love to other people is the only way to heal. David and Fortune are both third-year students at AIT and active community volunteers. The AIT Student’s Union has started a petition calling for Fortune and David to be granted leave on humanitarian grounds.  


While there was much suffering and injustice brought to light by this conference, there was also a sense of solidarity, determination and hope. The speakers at this event were not just sharing their individual stories but were standing up for everyone in Direct Provision and coming together in the name of change. This united approach is clearly reflected in the work of ADPI and will be crucial in bringing an end to Direct Provision.


Sign ADPI’s petition to abolish Direct Provision here.

Volunteer with ADPI here.

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation


UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

rubber dinghy refugees uk media
ellen mcveigh

Ellen McVeigh

4th September 2020


Earlier in August 2020, during a live item on BBC Breakfast, presenter Simon Jones and a small crew filmed a group of around 15 refugees on a precarious dinghy attempting to cross the English Channel from Calais to Dover in order to seek asylum in the UK. In an unsettling, almost dystopian piece of television, Jones explains in real-time the incredibly dangerous and desperate scene taking place behind him, as the individuals in the overcrowded dinghy attempt to drain the water collecting in the boat using buckets. The whole item is presented with the detached demeanour of either a sports commentator watching a boat race, or the tour operator on a whale watching tour. Despite asking them where they are from and if they are OK, there is a palpable lack of any kind of insight into the context of this journey, what they were fleeing from, or really any sensitivity towards the incredibly complex situation the refugees had found themselves in. What does the public learn from stories such as these?  


While this is an issue which is essential to report on, many are sceptical about the timing of these news stories while the UK is still deep in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and the government continues to face public scrutiny. With a death toll of more than 40,000, the worst in Europe, it could be argued that a few dozen people attempting to seek asylum in the country is not the most significant issue to be focussing on right now. The question of what led people to make this journey is the much more important issue, but these 10 minute live segments simply are not able to get to the crux of these issues. Around the same time as the BBC Breakfast show came out, Sky News had a similar piece on individuals from Sudan attempting to cross the Channel in a small dinghy without life jackets. Despite both news outlets reassuring their viewers that they were conscious of the safety of the refugees, many critics were worried not only about the risk of death but also the incredible depths to which these mainstream media outlets could stoop when covering these issues. To turn this dangerous situation into a television spectacle, filming vulnerable people who are unable to properly consent, highlighted a long-standing issue which the UK media has had with refugee and migrant issues for many years.  


In 2016, a report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that the volume of mainstream UK news coverage of asylum seekers and refugees has been increasing noticeably since the early 2000s. The report found several elements of this coverage which have had an impact on the British public’s perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers. They found that stories about migrants secretly crossing the English Channel from France had been a persistent feature of the British press, and particularly in right-wing newspapers such as The Telegraph and the Daily Mail. The report found that British newspapers regularly conflated stories about asylum seekers and refugees with other migrants, using the terms refugees and migrants interchangeably and sometimes even within the one article. In the more right-leaning papers, the UNHCR found frequent usage of the trope of the ‘bogus asylum seeker’, and the creation of distinctions between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ asylum seekers, often used to support hostile policies from the UK government. They found that these right-wing newspapers are likely to detach stories about refugees entering the UK from their home countries and that this lack of context leaves readers “badly informed about the factors behind refugee flows”. Even the BBC was found to divorce refugees from the push factors in their home country, instead largely focussing on political opinion from across the UK regarding the intake of refugees to the country. 


The framing of the issue of refugees crossing the English Channel on dinghies as an interesting topic for political debate, rather than an increasingly urgent human rights concern, allows the UK Government to shirk a certain amount of responsibility.”

It could be seen as the result of decades of cynical reporting on refugees from the British press, as well as the rising mainstream prominence of far-right groups such as UKIP, that we could see asylum seekers in such a desperate situation being shown live on breakfast television as a kind of visual spectacle. In an article in gal-dem magazine, Diyora Shadijanova speaks to the ‘Faragification’ of the media; the idea that the British media can continuously debate issues surrounding asylum and immigration in a detached, theoretical way rather than real situations happening to real people, which the UK government has a direct hand in affecting. Diyora highlights the fact that British media debates refugee issues in isolation, not addressing the circumstances which push someone to board an unsafe dinghy on the English Channel. They often fail to address the part the UK Government has to play not only in the global conflicts which produce refugees but also in creating a ‘hostile environment’ through the removal of safe, legal routes to seek asylum in the country. The obsession with ‘civilised’ debates on complex human rights issues has led to the normalisation of anti-immigration rhetoric. While waiting for the media to come to a balanced conclusion, people will continue to risk their lives on the Channel because they simply have no other choice. 


The framing of the issue of refugees crossing the English Channel on dinghies as an interesting topic for political debate, rather than an increasingly urgent human rights concern, allows the UK Government to shirk a certain amount of responsibility. In May 2020, The Guardian reported that the recently drafted Brexit text showed the UK Home Office’s plans to terminate the current system of family reunification, a policy which currently grants unaccompanied minors sanctuary in the UK. Despite earlier commitments to reunite refugee children with family in the UK, the draft negotiation text for Brexit seeks to ensure that family reunification will be on a discretionary basis, rather than a mandatory obligation. This news outraged refugee charities such as Safe Passage and Amnesty International, who warned it would endanger already vulnerable minors, and drive them into the hands of smugglers and gangs. In August, following the controversial BBC Breakfast Channel crossing segment, Safe Passage warned that more children and families would risk their lives by crossing the Channel through unsafe means if the UK government scrapped the legal routes to family reunification. They are concerned that many are already running out of time to seek a legal route before the Brexit transition period ends, and are instead being forced into lorries and dinghies.  


bbc refugee report english channel
sky news reporting refugees english channel 2020


The warnings from charities about children risking their lives in an attempt to cross the Channel became incredibly poignant on the 19th of August when it was reported that a 16-year-old Sudanese boy had drowned in the English Channel while attempting to reach the UK. When tweeting her condolences for the boy’s death, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed that the incident was “a brutal reminder of the abhorrent criminal gangs and people smugglers who exploit vulnerable people”. She faced a backlash from charities and other organisations who made the point that it was the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ was the very thing forcing people into these situations. Safe Passage highlighted that this tragic news was a “direct consequence of a lack of safe alternatives”; whilst Amnesty International UK demanded that both the UK and French governments share their asylum obligations. Just days earlier, Patel had announced plans to send royal navy warships into the English Channel to block migrant crossings, despite warnings that this was dangerous and unlawful. Amnesty International UK had warned that the only people who would benefit from these dangerous proposals would be the very smugglers and gangs who Priti Patel claimed to abhor.  


Years of intensifying anti-immigration rhetoric across the British press have calcified during the Brexit era, heightened by a Tory government which are openly committed to evading their responsibility to some of the most vulnerable in society. The divorcing of any context, for people making dangerous journeys across continents and seas, from the political situations in their home country or the lack of safe alternatives to entry as a direct result of UK government policy. This detachment from human rights issues, to the point of dehumanisation, allows a reporting on refugee issues which focuses entirely on political debate as opposed to empathetic framing of these issues which focuses on first-hand knowledge of the situation. Rather than seeing this lives as disposable, a tragic inevitability of the curious quirk of Channel crossings, it is important to reframe the conversation not in terms of personal responsibility but in terms of government policy which directly impacts on the paths that incredibly desperate people take when they are given no other choice. No human being is illegal, travelling across the Channel in a boat is not illegal, seeking asylum in the UK is not illegal. 



Featured photo by Pikist



STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

STAND Student Podcast

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

Young Greens outside the Dáil

Listen to the fifth episode of this series on the following platforms:



Google Podcasts





Radio Republic

Welcome to the fifth episode of our podcast series on the Democratic Republic of Congo, the entirety of which has been researched, produced and edited by TCD Student Maria Salto Galdon.

In this week’s podcast, we’re sharing the second part of an important interview on African economics, international trade, and supply chains.

We are joined again by Dr. David Nyaluke, UCD Proudly Made in Africa Fellow in Business and Development at the UCD School of Business.

David gives us incredibly valuable insight into one of the biggest issues facing modern day Africa – its international trade system. Join us as we journey  through its unfair history and current day situation .

When you’re done listening, make sure to connect with Proudly Made in Africa in whatever way you can:

Follow us on Instagram for updates and links to future podcast episodes.



Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy


Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy 

Greece Refugee Policy

1st September 2020


On 2 September 2015, almost five years ago to this day, the world was horrified as images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s dead body emerged, washed up on a Turkish beach. His family, fleeing the Syrian civil war, was trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. Since his picture made front-page news around the globe, media interest in the plight of these refugees has slowly dissipated.  


Meanwhile, the evolving crisis is worsening in Greece. As a primary entry point to the EU for those seeking asylum, the country is clearly overwhelmed and incapable of hosting those seeking protection. Facing discrimination and mistreatment at the hands of the Greek government, tensions have heightened during the Covid-19 crisis. Refugees who survive the journey to Europe think that the road ahead of them will be easier than the journey they have left behind. The reality is that suffering is far from over. 


Oinofyta refugee camp is located an hour from Athens. In November 2017, the camp was closed as it did not meet the minimum legal standards, yet it reopened just five months later. A source stated that, upon reopening, conditions were actually worse than before, due to reduced outside-support and services offered to the residents. Nonetheless, demand clearly overrode the need for a safe place to house refugees. Mothers, fathers and children are being kept in the camp; a disused chemical factory deemed structurally unsound, which ultimately does not meet the basic needs of humans; there is no clean water, the building is unsanitary, and the toilets have no doors for privacy. The camp is left unattended, with residents locked inside, on the weekends and overnight 


Pregnant women who go into labour when the camp is unattended are left to fend for themselves; in one particular instance, it was reported that a woman was assisted by other residents during her labour. The residents called an ambulance, which arrived two days later. Post-delivery, no assistance was provided to the new mother and child, by any official. The sad truth is that the woman would have probably received better medical care in a war zone  than on EU soil in this instance. Residents transferred to Oinofyta from Moria, often described as the worst refugee camp in the world., They stated that conditions had been terrible in Moria, but that at least organisations such as Médecins San Frontières (MSF) provided medical assistance. This is due to the Greek government revoking access to healthcare for asylum seekers. The only way to get out of these camps for medical treatment is to register for an asylum application, and this process presents yet another set of challenges.  


Oinofyta refugee camp is truly hell on earth, and it has been left up to asylum seekers to arrange their asylum appointments, which have to be organised via Skype. As you can imagine, this is an impossible task for those who don’t own a smartphone or don’t know how to use the internet. Even those who can navigate these first steps run into roadblocks. Six months after one asylum seeker arrived in Greece, he still has not been successful in organising an appointment, as the line is constantly engaged. People who have suffered in their home country and experienced suffering along their journey do not deserve to be housed in deplorable conditions with no healthcare or legal assistance, in what they expected to be a safe place to exist. 


Despite financial support sent to the UNHCR and the Greek government by the EU, conditions in these camps are yet to improve. There have been allegations and investigations into a lack of transparency and possible embezzlement and corruption in relation to funds allocated to Greece to take care of these refugees. The Greek government has adopted an increasingly hard-line approach to those that are refugees and the already inadequate system that attempts to support them. 


“Traditionally, the Greek government has given refugees six months to find suitable financial support and accommodation after their asylum application is deemed successful. In March, they reduced this time frame to just one month.”

As Greece welcomes tourists and allows them to roam freely, even if they are from countries with high rates of Covid-19, certain refugee camps have been subject to a continued lockdown since March 23. More than five months on, it has been extended seven times. This embodies the message from the Greek government: the difference between being welcomed and being treated as livestock is your country of origin and your financial means. As camp conditions worsened during the lockdown, many residents said that they felt abandoned and unable to source medication for the sick. The extended lockdown has been deemed discriminatory and unjustifiable in terms of public health by humanitarian agencies such as MSF, violating a long list of national, regional and international laws – notably Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Greek government is using the pandemic to detain and exercise control over refugees, worsening their already dire circumstances. 


Traditionally, the Greek government has given refugees six months to find suitable financial support and accommodation after their asylum application is deemed successful. In March, they reduced this time frame to just one month which, understandably, has led to residents refusing to leave their accommodationsparked protests and triggered a dramatic uptake in homelessness. This homelessness is especially prevalent in Victoria Square, Athens. According to organisations such as foodKIND, many residents in refugee camps have had their cash cards revoked due to this tightened timeline.  


These cash cards are a monthly financial allowance allocated to refugees. For the majority, this is their only means of feeding themselves and their families. Eligible refugees are subject to monthly verification checks and need to register through the smartphone app Viber – which means that, much like the asylum application process, possessing and being able to use a smartphone and internet access are required. There is a pattern occurring here: the Greek government is actively implementing a process that will make even the most basic and vital support extremely difficult to obtain for those most vulnerable.  


This system has led to fears of the financialisation of refugees in Greece, where money can even be deducted from a cash card as a form of punishment. According to estimates, this five-month reduction affects 11,000 refugees in Greece. It is simply not feasible to expect a refugee to find employment within a month in Greece, considering it has the highest unemployment rate in the EU. Organisations such as MSF have stated that no one is exempt from eviction, with Greek officials evicting refugees with serious health and mental health problems. In fact, in June, an MSF patient with existing health issues died from cardiac arrest after being threatened with eviction. This individual was literally scared to death by the actions of the Greek government, and to their benefit, one less refugee lives. Even so, the Migration Ministry’s Secretary-General still came out in defence of the change in law, stating that ‘if they are pampered, how are they ever going to find a job and become part of society?’. It is apparent that, wherever possible, the Greek government seeks to render these refugees despondent, hoping that they will disappear or cease to exist. 


Greece has made it near impossible for humanitarian organisations to operate in the country, imposing a multitude of expensive and bureaucratic obligations on them. Organisations offering essential services such as midwifery, healthcare and legal assistance are often ignored or denied entry to the refugee camps. In response, 72 organisations released a statement to Greek officials, urging them to reconsider the rules implemented in July due to the fact that ‘humanitarian work is essential work’, yet this ‘administrative assault’ on civil society groups has yet to be reversed. Legal Centre Lesvos has claimed that there is now constant police presence at their centre, resulting in the intimidation and threat of fines for people trying to access their services. Greek officials have also been harassing MSF, imposing fines exceeding €35,000 and threatening legal action which has directly led to the closure of the Covid-19 Isolation Centre on the Greek island of Lesvos. This centre was set up in an attempt to deter the devastating effect an outbreak in Moria could have on residents, as local health facilities are unable to cope with such an outbreak. The pandemic has only served to accelerate the government’s onslaught on refugees, at a time where countries such as Portugal granted refugees full citizenship rights during the pandemic. These tactics, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, can be perceived as a ‘cleansing’, as the Greek government is making it clear that they do not care whether these refugees live or die. 


The In a New York Times article  New York Times released on August 14, it was reported on August 14 that these hard-line tactics have extended to the sea. More than 1,000 people trying to reach Greece by sea have been turned away by the Greek coast guard, and some were even removed from the detention centres on the Greek islands. These people were often abandoned at sea on overcrowded life rafts in flagrant violation of humanitarian law. Despite the evidence, in the form of survivor interviews, photographic and video evidence, the Greek government has denied that these expulsions even took place. As the world is preoccupied with the coronavirus threat, the tactics of the Greek government have become more extreme and organised; they abandon these migrants around the Greek-Turkish sea border, where their survival is dependent on the compassion of the Turkish coast guard. A doctoral researcher at the Irish Center for Human Rights was among the first to document this unprecedented tactic adopted by the Greek government. Compelling evidence regarding these illegal pushbacks has since been recorded by organisations with a presence on the Greek islands, such as Legal Centre Lesvos and Aegean Boat Report, since March. There have been more recent reports of Greek officials injuring refugees on boats, imitating video evidence which emerged earlier this year.  


More than 1,000 people trying to reach Greece by sea have been turned away by the Greek coast guard… these people were often abandoned at sea on overcrowded life rafts in flagrant violation of humanitarian law.

These hard-line anti-refugee tactics are blatantly illegal. The European Union was built on solidarity and as a safe haven for those fleeing persecution and war. In the context of conflict, the mistreatment of civilians is deemed a war crime, so why is the world turning a blind eye to what continues to happen in Greece? As we ourselves are navigating this pandemic, imagine the suffering endured by these refugees, as Greek officials capitalise on the fact that our attention is being diverted elsewhere. Greece’s policies and tactics are entirely devoid of empathy and fail to give even a moment’s consideration for the human rights of these people. They have sought safety and dignity in EU territory and are met with prolonged suffering. Mechanisms in place to help refugees, such as cash cards and the asylum process, are riddled with unnecessary hurdles.  


Nothing comes easy for them; so don’t we have an obligation to support these vulnerable people in any way we can? Instead, the already inadequate support system is being used against them as a punitive measure, to avoid them being ‘pampered’. The Greek government is essentially caging these people in, to the detriment of their physical and mental health, taking anything but a humanitarian approach to this crisis. We must remember that these people are fleeing war-torn countries and have, in some cases, been subject to torture and sexual violence. Yet the Greek government has purposefully rendered especially vulnerable refugees homeless, even in the midst of a pandemic. 


In a final twist of hypocrisy, Greece is the current chair of the Council of Europe, the EU’s leading human rights organisation. Imagine the consequences of an EU country setting such an example for the rest of the world. 


If you would like to help organisations making a difference in the everyday lives of the refugees struggling in Greece please consider donating to the following organisations: 

foodKIND, who provide meals for 700 people a day in the Oinofyta and Malakasa refugee camps in Greece. 1 euro equals 3 meals for a refugee in need, click here to donate. 

Aegean Boat Report, who work to provide neutral, detailed and accurate information concerning boats arriving in the Aegean sea. This organisation has brought a lot of information to light concerning the disturbing practices against refugees arriving to the Greek islands from Turkey. By donating here you will be contributing to a better and more widespread understanding of this ongoing refugee crisis. 



Featured photo by Fotomovimiento