· Infectious Disease Specialist urges Government to remove most at risk in Direct Provision centres immediately and labels the facilities ‘Powder Kegs’

Groups working with asylum seekers and refugees have renewed their plea to Government to move those most at risk from the Covid-19/coronavirus out of Direct Provision and Emergency Accommodation centres immediately.

“There is no time to waste on this,” said Graham Clifford of the Sanctuary Runners’ movement, adding “those aged over 60, or with underlying health conditions, need to be moved out of these centres now. Every day wasted is another which puts at risk both the lives of the most vulnerable in these centres and wider society as a whole. There are empty hotels, empty air b&b properties, empty college accommodation – If appropriate we should use these before it’s too late. What are we waiting for?”

Eamonn Faller, an Infectious Disease Specialist Registrar at Cork University Hospital, said: “Direct Provision centres are, in effect, huge powder kegs for Covid-19/coronavirus. The government can’t insist on social distancing and isolation of the most vulnerable in society while these centres remain hopelessly overcrowded. There are many vulnerable people in Direct Provision who have no way to self-isolate. Moving these people out of these centres is absolutely crucial and must be done without delay.”

Various groups have raised this issue with the Department of Justice and Equality already, including the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland and Doras Luimní, and the Irish Refugee Council is calling on Minister Charlie Flanagan to act immediately.

Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, said: “We have written to Minister Flanagan, calling on the Government to move people, who are within the HSE risk categories, to accommodation where they can adhere to social distancing, as required by Government advice and self-isolate and cocoon if necessary. Such accommodation should have appropriate supports and assistance to ensure their safety during this period. We stand ready to assist in any such move including finding appropriate accommodation and support. We are gravely concerned that current accommodation is not suitable for people in these categories during this crisis.”

There are approximately 5,686 people living in 39 direct provision centres around Ireland including 1,739 children. An additional 1,585 people, including 285 children, are residing in emergency accommodation B&Bs and hotels.

Fiona Finn, chief executive of Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, said: “There are people who are immune-compromised or in other high-risk categories who are sharing rooms with strangers. They need to be moved to safety immediately. Being able to take even the minimum precautions of regularly washing your hands with warm water and soap in these conditions can be challenging.”

And Graham Clifford added: “We are not an advocacy group but over the last two years we have built up close friendships with so many in Direct Provision. We cannot stand by and see many left in these centres and put at risk while others in wider Irish society are urged to cocoon. There is not adequate space in centres for self-isolation rooms. Its simply a physical impossibility. These people need to be moved out now.”

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