Desperate hunger strike by refugees forces action

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Asylum seekers at one of Ireland’s most notorious direct provision centres are to be relocated after ending a hunger strike in protest at the conditions of their disease-ridden accommodation in County Kerry.

Migrant rights groups and asylum seekers living there have repeatedly called for the centre to be closed. On Tuesday, 32 residents of the controversial centre in Cahersiveen began refusing food, describing their living conditions as inhumane.

The centre is located at the former Skellig Star hotel and was opened in mid-March, when over 100 residents were moved there from Dublin. Within two weeks, the first cases of coronavirus appeared among residents.

Questions were raised over whether or not the Department of Justice – which was then in charge of Direct Provision – knew about a confirmed Covid-19 case in an individual there before the asylum seekers were moved in.

Since then there have been around 25 cases. Residents who tested positive were moved off-site to an isolation facility, but the disease has continued to spread within the centre.

Calls for its closure were made both by residents and by local people. They noted the centre was not fit for purpose, and that social distancing was impossible there.

In May, then justice minister Charlie Flanagan apologised to the people of Cahersiveen for the manner in which the direct provision centre was opened there, but rejected calls for it to be closed.

The asylum seekers say they have been “traumatised” from living in the centre, and said they have been forced to boil their tap water, which is infected with the parasite cryptosporidium, and that milk and other foods had been rationed.

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Equality, Inclusion and Law Reform Pa Daly said he welcomed the decision of residents to end their hunger strike after three days.

In a statement, he said the decision to go on hunger strike had not been taken lightly and the residents should be relocated “over the coming weeks”.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said those involved had had taken a “pretty drastic” decision to highlight their situation in direct provision.

Speaking in the Dáil, she raised their living conditions and said they would “do better in a refugee camp in the Lebanon”.

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