Hunger Strikes in Skellig Star – How Could We Let It Come to This?
31st July 2020
This week, 30 residents of Direct Provision began have begun a hunger strike after being left “traumatised” by their inhumane living conditions under the scheme. This came to light on Tuesday 28 July at the Skellig Star Hotel Direct Provision centre in Cahersiveen, County Kerry. The group was seeking is seeking to be transferred to other Direct Provision centres around the country with immediate effect. The hunger strike was suspended late Thursday evening when promises came from Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to residents that they will be relocated to more humane centres. Despite cries of victory and ‘power to the people’, it should never have come to this.
The Skellig Star centre opened in mid-March in order to ensure safety and social distancing in accommodation centres when Covid-19 hit, but only a fortnight later, the first cases of coronavirus among its residents were confirmed. Since then, 25 cases among residents have been confirmed. For four months now, calls for the closure of the Skellig Star have been made repeatedly by local people as well as residents. Both groups stand united, calling the centre unfit for purpose and that it renders social distancing near impossible. Although around 30 people have since left the facility, 41 people remain at the hotel – including seven children. Despite five months of raising concerns about conditions, little has been done for them.
In May, the then-Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, apologised to the people of Cahersiveen for the manner in which the centre was opened, while rejecting calls for it to be closed – and yet recent allegations from the resident asylum seekers continue to increase in severity. There have been claims of residents being forced to ration food and water at the centre; that staff are only allowed to give two two-litre cartons of milk per day for the 41 residents at the hotel; that due to a Boil Water Notice imposed on Cahersiveen, an allowance of 5 litres of water per day afforded to each resident during lockdown was decreased to 2 litres a day – and last week, to none, meaning that residents who can’t afford to buy their own water must drink boiled tap water. There have also been claims of poor deep cleaning and sanitisation of the hotel rooms which housed residents with confirmed cases of Covid-19. There have been claims that staff working at the centre do not have appropriate Garda vetting. All claims have been dismissed by management. And yet, as of this week, all adults at the centre – representing ten different nationalities – have been so ignored, and their concerns so flippantly dismissed, that they have resorted to that particularly Irish recourse of the hunger strike.
“There have been claims of residents being forced to ration food and water at the centre; that staff are only allowed to give two two-litre cartons of milk per day for the 41 residents at the hotel.”
Aswar Fuard came to Ireland from Sri Lanka in May 2019 and is a current resident of the Direct Provision centre in the Skellig Star, along with his wife and one of his children. “This place is not okay,” he says. “We should be moved, but the department is not listening.” Mr Fuard makes a key point: if another wave of Covid-19 hits, the centre at Cahersiveen is going to be a severe problem. The residents want to be moved – to a self-contained unit with adequate facilities, where the residents can look after themselves and cook for themselves, where they can have access to a social worker, where they can have a vulnerability assessment and get treatment. “We need to restart our lives. While we are here, we will not recover.”
The current Programme for Government has made commitments to abolish the system of Direct Provision. The Department of Justice has said that it plans to investigate the conditions at the Skellig Star Hotel, resolving any issues as a matter of “priority”. Lack of previous concern would suggest otherwise. In fact, a Department spokesperson went so far as to say that the government are “concerned that any resident would put their health in danger by refusing food.” This is an ironic statement if there ever was one. Where was the concern for healthcare in Direct Provision in the height of the Covid-19 crisis, when conditions were cramped, shared spaces went unsanitised, and the virus-infected 25 residents in the centre?
Featured photo by Say No to Direct Provision Ireland