Unions and NGOs to fight `dispersal policies'
Over 400 people, including representatives of many nongovernmental organisations and trade unions, packed into Liberty Hall on Sunday to plan a campaign against the discriminatory policy introduced by the 26-County government of ``direct provision'' for asylum seekers.
Last week, the government formally introduced its policy of `dispersal' and `direct provision' for those who seek asylum. This means that refugees are now denied Social Welfare Allowance and rent allowance and instead are `dispersed', in most cases to full board accommodation with a weekly payment of £15, (£7.50 for a child).
We are seeing the beginning of institutional racism in Ireland. It has to be challenged.
It was a powerful meeting, with a noticeably high proportion of women attending. It was an expression of the outrage felt over recent government policies for refugees. The conference was jointly organised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Irish Refugee Council and the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace. Michael Farrell of the ICCL chaired proceedings.
Inez McCormack, President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, spoke out strongly against the policies of `dispersal' and `direct provision'. ``We are seeing the beginning of institutional racism in Ireland,'' she said.
``We need to build alliances and the determination to challenge these policies. We need a task force where asylum seekers are themselves involved in the decisions affecting their lives here in Ireland.'' McCormack referred to the equality provisions in the Good Friday Agreement and called on everyone to challenge the pain and humiliation that is being inflicting on refugees to this country.
``There is nothing in social welfare regulations which says that you have to be Irish, tall, blond and blue eyed in order to claim benefit - merely that you are without means and living in this state. Anything else is discriminatory and racist.'' So said Siobhan Phelan, chairperson of FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres). She went on to outline how John O'Donoghue's new policies denied refugees their statutory rights to freedom of movement, to practice their religion, their right to legal advice in preparation of their court cases. In all these instances, the government is contravening international law.
Thomas McCann, an equality worker with the Irish Traveller Movement, spoke of how offensive language is always used to describe Travellers. Jane Boushell of SIPTU, representing some of the state's community welfare officers, spoke of how these employees are told to implement a policy which is unlikely to be constitutional or legal. There was insufficient statutory basis for `direct provision', denial of SWA was discriminatory and in conflict with article 40.1 of the constitution, she said. Already the denial of SWA is being contested through appeal to the Welfare Appeals tribunal.
The right to work should be granted to all asylum seekers. It is, after all, the denial of their right to work which grounds so much of the discrimination. It is the government which is fabricating this anxiety over accommodation for refugees. Racism is coming from the top. The government is using refugees as an excuse for the housing crisis which exists in the state, John Tambwe, an asylum seeker from Rwanda who works with the African Refugee Network said. Asylum seekers make up only a small fraction of the long housing lists in the state. Where, after all, are the 200,000 immigrant workers which the government intends to bring to this country over the next four years to live and work? Why must 7,000 or 8,000 refugees be subjected to humiliation because they seek refuge here?
Stasia Crickley, chairperson of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, spoke of the absence of services in centres of `dispersal', and the illegality of `moving' refugees to these centres without even a semblance of choice.
Every speaker in their different ways, spoke of institutional racism, a racism emanating from government and its policies. The meeting was a cry of shame and of anger at what the government is doing. It is a sign of things to come.