Bright Mitole lost his bed of about three years at Eyre Powell Hotel, a direct provision centre in Newbridge in Kildare, after an argument with a new roommate, he says.
They argued about whether the lights should be on or off, he says, and it descended into a physical altercation on 30 April.
Mitole wanted the other person to be moved out of the room, he says.
But, instead, the manager temporarily moved Mitole to another room, he says – a smaller one, shared with two other people.
On Monday 10 May, Mitole wasn’t allowed in the centre at all, accused of not spending the night at the hostel for several days therefore breaching the rules. He denies that, and is now fighting a transfer to another centre.
Those who are forced against their will to move rooms or to move direct provision centres say a lack of a fair process transplants them into arrangements that are dangerous or unsuitable.
For some, that can mean sharing a room with two other strangers. While the department considers that acceptable, the Irish Refugee Council says it isn’t, especially in a time of Covid.
Mitole’s belongings are still in his old room, he says, and – for two days after he was originally moved out of it – so was his medication.
He has a serious health condition that undermines his immune system. He missed two doses, he says.
On 3 May, he got a letter from a GP that confirms his condition. After that, he was allowed in just to pick up his medication, says Mitole.
“I’ve been in my room since 2017. That’s my home. All my belongings are still in that room,” he said, on Wednesday 5 May.
“I’ve accumulated a lot of things in the past six years I’ve been in direct provision,” he says.
The manager, he said, is not letting him pick up his belongings from his old room or move them to the centre’s storage rooms. He’s been wearing the same clothes since 30 April, he says.
A representative at the Eyre Powell Hotel referred the queries to the Department of Children and Equality.
Mitole, who is yet to be vaccinated against Covid, was also concerned that he would come down with Covid in a small room where social distancing is less feasible, he says.
He is now worried about ending up in even a smaller room if he has to move to another direct provision centre.
In an email on 11 May to a principal officer at the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) – now an office within the Department of Children and Equality – Mitole says he wants back in.
“I need you to help me get a place back for I do not wish to be transferred,” the email says.
The manager had called the Gardaí to arrest him for “trespassing”, Mitole says in the email.
Mitole is not the only one who was moved out of Eyre Powell against his wishes.
Back in February, Titus Fabunmi had a verbal argument with the manager at Eyre Powell, and had to leave.
The manager had accused him of breaching house rules and acting violently and had asked IPAS to remove him, and they’d agreed.
This time too, the manager called the guards. Fabunmi filmed his encounter with the two Gardaí with his phone.
“I asked them how can you charge me with trespassing in a place where my belongings were still inside,” he says.
Fabunmi got his possessions in large bin bags. His transfer letter said he had a bed in Galway’s Great Western House Hotel, but that he had to self-isolate.
He misunderstood this and travelled straight to Galway. They didn’t let him in, and he slept rough in the city for two days, he says.
Fabunmi eventually got to an isolation centre in Dundalk, but by the time his isolation period in Dundalk ended, the Galway bed was gone, he says. “They said Galway is full.”
At the time, a staff member at IPAS wrote to Fabunmi that they were experiencing a “severe bed shortage”.
“It’s important for applicants to be aware that due to a severe bed shortage, certain locations will not be available as an accommodation location,” the letter says.
Not a Shortage But …
IPAS is not experiencing bed shortages presently, says a spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality.
All new applicants are housed in either “designated Accommodation Centres or in one of the Emergency Accommodation Centres being used by the Department”, they said.
There are currently 6,993 people living in IPAS accommodation, with 98 percent “of available IPAS accommodation being used or not available”, the spokesperson said.
Some locations such as Dublin are really in demand though, they said, so IPAS can’t facilitate people moving to those.
In March, Fabunmi got a bed in Dublin, but had to leave it behind, eventually.
He travelled to the Dublin Airport Manor hotel on 10 March to share a small room with bunk beds with two other people, he says.
He hadn’t asked for a bed in any specific place, he says. But he found the living arrangements in the Dublin centre challenging to get used to.
“I was forced to use a bunk bed, so I complained to them that I couldn’t be climbing up and down the bed all the time just to use the toilet,” says Fabunmi.
IPAS has been processing Fabunmi’s application for a new bed for the past two weeks while he stays in Dundalk’s isolation centre, he says.
He says he has nothing to look forward to, and is battling depression. “I’m just stuck here now, I don’t have any power or independence.”
Rooms for Three
Meanwhile, Mitole says that when Covid struck, and they had a few outbreaks at their centre in Kildare, he made it clear that he preferred not to share a room with more than one person due to his medical condition.
“My immune system is low in the sense that if I got the Covid-19 virus, I won’t survive it,” he says.
The new room that they temporarily gave him after his dispute with his roommate had “no ventilation, no window, no plug to charge my laptop or my phone”, says Mitole.
In April 2020, the Department of Justice, which ran IPAS at the time, said it had added 850 beds for those in direct provision to help residents observe social-distancing.
That was to “allow the reduction of occupancy in rooms that were occupied by applicants who were not related to each other to no more than three persons per room”, says the spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality.
The spokesperson didn’t say if the size of the room or ventilation was assessed in arrangements where three or more strangers were living together.
The Department did not respond before deadline to a follow-up query asking how they’d decided on the acceptable number of people in one room.
They said that a “significant proportion of non-related people” live in pairs of two in their centres.
“From recent statistics, of 1,892 people sharing with non-related people, 1,171, were sharing with one other person only,” said the spokesperson.
The figures show an increase compared to April 2020, when 1,700 people shared a bedroom, says a spokesperson for the Irish Refugee Council.
In late April, the Irish Refugee Council put out a statement expressing concern about this arrangement, calling on the state to prioritise asylum seekers for Covid vaccination.
“This situation is … contrary to the advice given by the Chief Medical Officer last year and also recent Health Prevention Surveillance Centre guidance that people should socially distance while in Direct Provision,” they said.
A Fair Hearing
Asylum seekers like Mitole and Fabunmi who lost their beds to arguments and conflicts say a lack of due process plays a part in their displacement.
Both Mitole and Fabunmi believe that IPAS staff tend to side with centre managers when something goes wrong, viewing residents’ side of the story as less credible or inconsequential.
“IPAS always helps centre’s manager,” says Fabunmi. If that weren’t true, he wouldn’t have lost his bed in the first place, he says.
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality said that “IPAS is always available to deal with any complaints from residents, and residents are encouraged to engage with IPAS if they are unhappy with any aspect of their accommodation”.
Besides the IPAS customer service team, all residents have access “to an independent support helpline operated by the Jesuit Refugee Services and funded by the Department”, they said.
But Mitole is not optimistic. “I wrote to all these agencies mentioned and they have not responded,” he said last Saturday.
The Irish Refugee Council was the only organisation that responded to his email, Mitole says.
“You follow all the guidelines, you follow all the laws, do your efforts in college, but still in the end, they treat you like you’re nothing,” he says.