“THIS is mental and psychological torture,” says Kingsley, as he looks around his bleak, over-crowded surroundings in Hanratty’s asylum centre in the city.
“We can’t live this like. How much longer is it going to take,” he asked.
The Nigerian national has only been living here a year, but a year is a long time when you are separated from your family, forced to share a room with three other men, not allowed to work or study, or even cook the food of your own choosing for yourself.
The gap between leaving behind a life of political or religious persecution in divided nations to bridging a new one in Irish society is seen as a place of purgatory for those placed in asylum centres, and awaiting the determination of asylum applications can take up to a decade, if not longer.
Kingsley, who like others in the centre does not wish to reveal his full name due to the circumstances in which he fled his native country, said what he wants from a life here should not be complicated, but the system certainly is. “We want freedom to integrate, to get a job, to get education, to be able to travel. We don’t know our society and we don’t know our environment,” he says, in passionate, raised tones.
Other residents crowd around and shout over him, with their own impassioned pleas - largely just to be heard by anyone.
According to the last available figures from the Department of Justice, Hanratty’s - the former hotel which once welcomed Che Guevara - has 101 residents, 87 of whom are male and 14 are women. However, it is the only such centre in Limerick which caters to both female and male residents, especially one with a highly disproportionate ratio.
By comparion, there are some 40 men in Mount Trenchard in Foynes, a further 82 in Westbourne on the Dock Road, while Knockalisheen in Clare caters for some 140 residents, including men, women and children.
“There is no systematic, safe, good practice in any centre in Ireland full stop. Knockalisheen is not family specific either, they are placed there alongside single men and women,” explained Karen McHugh, chief executive of Doras Luimni, the Limerick agency which has been supporting the right of all migrants in the Mid-West for over a decade.
Some of the women in Hanratty’s feel that this is not a safe environment for them, due to the predominantly male and highly-charged environment such as the circumstances the system inherently creates. The men also not allowed to bring any girlfriends into the centre.
“It’s not really safe, and it’s not appropriate,” said Selina, 36, a hairdresser, from Cameroon, who is holding a placard, but is slumped in a chair, clearly in despair. “I can’t work, and it’s killing my talents and skills. I can’t be creative any more.”
Another resident Felix, who also does not want to reveal his name, said: “The manager doesn’t see us as human beings. People in prisons have a better life. There is no dignity here. There are about 10 women here now, but I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. They should be in a separate centre.”
M’broh Jacques Koffi, a 35 year-old tailor from the Ivory Coast, said he has been waiting for his application to be processed for ten years. “It is very frustrating. I have two kids [in the Ivory Coast], and it’s very difficult to feed them from here. I try to send home maybe €50 a month if I can out of the money I receive.”
Residents receive just €19.10 a week from the department for their living costs. After two protests inside the walls of Hanratty’s this week they vowed to bring their protest back to the streets again to call on the Government to end the backlog in processing their applications.
Ms Hugh said contrary to some perceptions the length of time people spend in the system is not their fault. Residents can only submit one application for a certain status at the time, whereas in the UK all applications can be submitted in one tranche, or under one single assessment. This system is currently being assessed here, but Doras, like others, is still calling for an end to direct provision. “If it was a fair and efficient system people wouldn’t need to be in the system for so long. In the UK asylum seekers can apply to work after a year; here, they are waiting years to make a contribution to the State and not be a burden on the State. Any new system should not be profit driven, and should be overseen by an independent body, similar to nursing homes, by the Ombudsman or HIQA, which it is not at present.”