‘WE would like decision makers to visit us in Clonakilty Lodge to see, and hopefully understand, exactly how we live – and maybe then they would realise what needs to change.’
That’s the message from the ‘unofficial’ spokeswoman at the West Cork Direct Provision Centre, Khanyo Dlamini.
The mother-of-two from South Africa has been living at the centre since 2015, and while she emphasises her gratitude (she fled her home country for her safety), she said she ‘never thought her life would be like this.’
Like ‘this’ means, she said, dealing with past trauma, coping with the stress of living with so many people and cultures, and trying to navigate her way through the asylum system.
She’s currently appealing a decision for asylum status and says the fact the process takes so long adds to her stress.
‘We all have different reasons for leaving our countries; but they were serious enough for us to leave. We all have to deal with that on our own, in our rooms. We are expected to deal with that trauma and be okay, as if we are zombies.’
Marian O’Regan has been assistant manager at the centre for 14 years and is affectionately known as ‘mamma.’
Algerian Soumaya Bouznad explains: ‘It’s simply because she is our mamma.’
Marian says all the residents are suffering in different ways; and both she and Khanyo agree that mental health is a very big concern in the centre.
Eight of the current residents have been there for over seven years. Khanyo says: ‘In the mornings, you have to find a strength within you and swim above whatever feelings you have, even though you don’t know what the day will bring. You have to put on a smile for your children.’
However, she feels that the basic fundamentals that children need to learn (how to clean up after themselves etc) are already lost for many of the younger residents because of the way they live.
Up until last year they were unable to cook for themselves. However, the centre now has a large kitchen in an outside portakabin.
But she points to the fact that children can’t have friends over for play dates, and that when they visit their friend’s homes, it only highlights to them their own living arrangements.
The centre essentially comprises a dining area – although most opt to eat in their rooms – a kitchen; shop; laundry portakabin and green area.
‘Our kids are like lost sheep – they don’t know what to do,’ she said.
Khanyo, along with Soumaya and Laban Matwali from Congo (who will spend his first Christmas at the centre) all said they’d like to be able to contribute more to Irish society and have the right to work.
Work permits are granted, depending on the status of a person’s application for asylum.
Khanyo added: ‘We do put on a smile even though inside we’re broken. But people need to be more motivated.
‘We don’t want payments of €21.60 a week, we want to work.’
Khanyo feels there is a stigma surrounding asylum seekers in general, athough not so much in Clonakilty.
Local fundraising efforts this month saw almost €3,000 raised for the centre which, among other things, meant all the mums got a €50 voucher per child to choose a gift for their kids themselves, as opposed to getting one donated.
Timoleague restaurant Monk’s Lane also extended an open invite to all the residents for lunch this week which was a huge success.
‘I’m not just an asylum seeker, I’m a human being like any other. I might only have €21.60 but I still spend it in the local shops and I’m as much a part of the community as any other,’ insisted Khanyo.
2017 was a good year for the centre, Marian said, explaining that for whatever reason she never saw so many people get their official papers.
However, a major stumbling block in exiting the system is a lack of affordable housing.
Khanyo asked: ‘We’re expected to know how to fly, but how can we when we’re kept in a cage?’
The Department of Justice says that where people with status are remaining in centres, the staff of the department’s Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) work together with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, local authorities and other relevant government departments to assist them to move out of that accommodation and on to independent living in our communities.
‘The RIA also works with a number of NGOs such as DePaul and the Jesuit Refugee Service, and are finalising arrangements with Respond to provide supports to persons in accommodation centres who have been granted status to move out to the community.’
Marian said they also do everything they can to support people locally once they move out.
Khanyo agreed that the local community in general is very good to them.
She mentioned the West Cork Asylum Seeker Network and other groups who come in to teach things like yoga, crafts and massage.
‘Other communities around the country could learn from them,’ she said.
Christmas Day itself is a quiet one in the centre, with the main festivities marked on the 23rd.
Khanyo said her hope for herself her family was to leave the centre in 2019.
Then, she adds: ‘But I would stay on in Clonakilty to help others.’
Life in Direct Provision
• The Clonakilty Accommodation Centre at Clonakilty Lodge was opened in 2000.
• The contracted capacity of the accommodation centre is 108 people. The occupancy at the start of the month was 96 which comprised 52 adults and 44 children. It’s primarily a family centre – 85 of the residents are in families with children. The youngest child is two months’ old and the oldest is 14 years. They are both from Zimbabwe. Two further couples, one from Syria and one from Egypt, were expected before Christmas.
• As of this month, there were 15 nations represented in the centre, including Albania, Nigeria, DR Congo, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
• There are seven staff members in the centre.
• The annual statistics for 2017 show that while eight residents have been there for seven plus years, 72 of the residents have been resident for less than three years. A Deptartment of Justice spokesman said: ‘‘While we cannot comment on individual cases, in general terms any of the few individuals residing for seven plus years in an accommodation centre are likely to have already received a negative decision (and in many cases a number of such decisions) on their protection application and in many cases will have lodged an appeal or several appeals to the courts, as is their right. Others may be suffering from ill-health and accommodation is being provided on an ongoing basis.’
• Currently all residents receive €21.60 per person a week. This payment (called the Daily Expenses Allowance) is paid by the Department of Employment and Social Protection and from March 2019, the rates will increase to €38.80 per adult per week and €29.80 per child per week.