Asylum seekers outside Westbourne Accommodation Centre Picture: Michael Cowhey
THE CLOSURE of a Direct Provision centre in Limerick city was discussed in Dáil Éireann this Thursday afternoon, with calls for the Government to provide details on legal protection for those affected.
This Wednesday, Westbourne Accommodation Centre on the Dock Road, shut its doors after the Department of Justice issued a closure notice over a lack of maintenance repairs in relation to “health and safety”.
The centre housed 64 male asylum seekers and had 12 staff; eight full-time and four part-time.
On Thursday, during the Leaders’ Questions, Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger said to Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton:
“Minister, I wanted to ask you what laws you are going to introduce to deal with the situation that happened yesterday in Limerick, whereby 12 workers face losing their jobs and 64 men, who are living in a hotel as refugees, have now been evicted from their homes of long-standing?”
The borrowings of Westbourne Holiday Hostel Limited, the contract holder, were acquired by the National Asset Management Agency in December 2010.
The Limerick Leader learned that OCM EmRu Debtco DAC (OCM) — which was incorporated in June 2016 and is a subsidiary of Oaktree Capital Management — acquired the loans from a Nama subsidiary in 2016.
OCM is the same firm involved the Strand Apartments saga, which saw dozens of residents served with eviction notices earlier this year.
“Now, in the programme for Government, you mention a commitment to provide greater protection for mortgage holders and tenants whose loans fall into the hands of vulture funds.
“Here we have the most vulnerable tenants that we could possibly think about in this country, in terms of people in Direct Provision; who were being given refuge by one arm of the State, and whose loans were sold by another arm of the State — Nama — and quite an incredible situation.”
“And what are you going to do about these vulture funds getting their hands on, in this case a State service for the most vulnerable? And also, just lastly, what happens to the workers in these situations? You mention protecting businesses, you say nothing about workers, whose loans fall into the lap of vulture funds as well. 12 people unemployed,” she concluded.
Minister Bruton said that any “new legislative initiatives”, as part of the Government’s housing strategy, would be brought forward by Minister for Housing Simon Coveney.
“The housing strategy includes a range of housing supply, and includes housing for people who are moving from Direct Provision. That is an element of the housing strategy. The legislative elements have already been outlined in that. We have had numerous debates on this,” he replied.
Former residents were transferred, via buses, to new centres on Wednesday afternoon, including Knockalisheen, Hanratty’s, and to centres in Athlone and Longford.
The Reception and Integration Agency (Ria) stated that those transferred to Athlone will be staying in “fully-fitted mobile homes”, and guesthouse accommodation in Longford.
The Leader spoke to 10 “frightened” asylum seekers, who described the move as “unfair”. A man said it was “distressing” for up to 30 people seeking medical treatment, many for insomnia and depression. Some men “are being separated from their children”.
One said that they had been advised by Ria to apply to return to Limerick, but he said “that could take up to seven months”.
“I am one of the people who cannot sleep without tablets. Most people cannot sleep without tablets, and some people are suffering from severe depression,” one man said.
Ria said provision of medical services “is a matter for the HSE”.
Another man from the Middle-East said that they “cannot complain or else we are sent home.
“We have come from all over the world where we cannot talk, and when we come to Ireland and, now we can’t talk, so why have we come to Ireland? And the food here is terrible, but if we complain, we are moved to an even worse hostel.
“And now, we must go to a new place and share rooms with new people. This is like moving from our home country all over again. We are terrified. It is very hard to build trust with people.”
The spokesperson said that “every effort has been made to relocate residents within the Limerick area where possible”, with a number of cases being “prioritised” to stay in the area.
“The number of available places in the Limerick area is limited but all those who wish to move back to Limerick can apply for a transfer from their new centre and when appropriate accommodation is available an offer of transfer will be considered.”
One resident said: “We were not safe in our home country – but we have been very safe here.”