The Georgian Court is a hostel on Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin 1. In 2013, two children staying there with their mother suffered severe bites from bedbugs. Last month, a Circuit Civil Court awarded the children €8,000 in damages.
The family were recently arrived asylum seekers and the Georgian Court is a reception centre for such seekers. As the Phoenix magazine, which reported this story, notes, the owner – Sean Lyons – “has made a mint out of housing immigrants”.
Lyons has operated through a company called Fayzard Ltd, which, as I wrote about here in 2015, runs direct-provision centres in Dublin and Laois. The direct-provision system for asylum seekers is hugely controversial on human rights grounds (discussed further below).
But it is not bad for business. Fayzard’s profits in 2013 were €800,000, with its total accumulated profits then amounting to a total of some €10.8 million.
The 2016 figures reported by Phoenix put accumulated Fayzard profits at €4.3 million, though the picture is complicated by the fact that profits now appear to be distributed across a number of Lyons group companies.
Residents have staged protests (including, in some cases, hunger strikes) at both Georgian Court and at the centre in Laois, and in many other direct-provision centres.
Why the protests? Despite recommendations for reform, asylum seekers in direct provision continue often to be housed several people to a room, given just €19 per week “spending money”, can neither pursue third-level study nor work, and in most centres are unable even to cook their own food.
Recently, the International Protection Act saw asylum seekers receive a 60-page questionnaire regarding their applications that they were asked to return within a wholly unrealistic time frame of 20 days – the fear this caused for already vulnerable and stressed people was immense.
As the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) puts it, the new procedure “created chaos for thousands of people”. For more views of asylum seekers themselves on these and other issues, check out the documentary-film work of Caoimhe Butterly.
On Saturday 20 May in Mayo, the NGO Afri will host the annual Famine Walk, which draws parallels between the experience of oppression and exile during the Great Irish Famine of the 19th century, and the experiences of those fleeing hunger and violence today. One of the walk’s leaders will be asylum seeker Donnah Vuma, who will share her perspective on direct provision.
On a related theme, this coming Saturday (13 May) sees actor and playwright Donal O’Kelly, together with Sorcha Fox, stage his play The Cambria in the Hospice Education Centre, Harold’s Cross, at 8pm.
Donal’s play tells the true story of escaped American slave Frederick Douglass, who fled vengeful US slave owners aboard a ship called the Cambria, and found refuge in Ireland in 1845.
The play opens and closes at Dublin Airport in the present day, as a teacher discovers that her Nigerian pupil has been deported.
As a recent article Donal wrote for The Journal said in its headline, “In 1845, Douglass had dinner with the Lord Mayor. Today he’d be put in direct provision”. Or possibly himself deported if he dared to claim asylum here.
There is another parallel between Douglass and today’s asylum seekers – the treatment of human beings as sources of profit. Douglass escaped from slavery, a life in which he was seen only as a means to make money for others.
Asylum seekers in Ireland today may not be slaves as such, but their rights are clearly violated and their treatment affords opportunities aplenty for others to (wholly legally) make money from them.
Irish governance is irredeemably wedded to the idea that, wherever possible, public ownership and provision should be sidelined in favour of reliance on private-sector actors and the profits they can thereby accrue.
This is true of housing and hospitals, and it is also – and most unforgivably – true when it comes to the reception of those seeking refuge from persecution.