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A letter to the Justice Minister

Last update - Tuesday, July 1, 2014, 11:25 By Ronit Lentin

  Dear Minister Fitzgerald, it is impossible for Ireland to claim to have an integration policy while the State treats asylum seekers as it currently does. 

The system of direct provision as operated by the Department of Justice is a stain on Ireland’s conscience and makes me deeply ashamed of this country. To keep people in this system/process for years on end, in conditions that lead to people becoming deskilled, depressed and hopeless, is particularly barbaric, and a State calling itself a republic cannot continue to maintain it. 

The situation where people are kept in limbo, denied access to education, to work, to their basic rights, where people are often forced to live with people they do not know, and who do not speak their language, where people are forced to eat food that is unacceptable to them, and where people are often harassed by hostel management, is totally indefensible.

As former Minister for Children, I expect you to end this system and thereby uphold the rights of all the children in this country, not just some of them. 

Several reports have exposed the conditions of children and of women in direct provision where families find it extremely hard to maintain a normality of family life, not to speak of hope. People are kept in direct provision on a minimal ‘comfort allowance’ – have you considered what you would be able to buy for €19.10 a week? Furthermore, people in direct provision are kept in a state of deportability, ready to be deported whenever the State sees fit; their children often snatched from school in plain view of their classmates. Yet deportability often becomes un-deportability, as the State finds it cannot remove many of those with deportation letters because of human rights conventions or cost, and they linger in direct provision for years.

Asylum seekers are in Ireland legally, and no one should be treated as people in direct provision are, as if they are less human than others. 

The excuse given for Ireland’s past scandalous brutal, cruel and criminal treatment meted to the most vulnerable women and children by State and church, is that people didn’t know or that the times were hard. Well, we cannot claim not to know about the realities of direct provision and the absolute injustice it entails. Therefore it is urgent that we abolish this system and start behaving with humanity to our sisters and brothers from other countries. After all, as French philosopher Alain Badiou says, “there is only one world”.

There has been some talk about ‘reforming’ the asylum system and clearing the ‘backlog’. But reform is no longer enough. Living in direct provision prevents people from exercising their agency and their rights. The pretence of integration policy, which is not targeted at asylum seekers, simply cannot co-exist with direct provision. Thus, integration is just pretence, and I do not want to be part of a State where people are rendered illegal just because they seek asylum, and where people are candidates for deportation. 

Ending direct provision must be coupled by ending deportations, and I expect you to use your term of office to end these two wrongs.

Sincerely, Ronit Lentin.



Ronit Lentin is associate professor of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her column appears fortnightly in Metro Éireann.

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