This is a typical day in the life of an asylum seeker in Knockalisheen Accommodation Centre (Direct Provision). The first thing is a trip to communal bathrooms to brush teeth and shower before breakfast which will be served in the canteen between 08h00-10h00. The condition of the bathroom will depend on the type of a block it is in. Single men’s blocks are usually filthy.
I still remember the smell of C Block in the Balseskin Reception Centre. One day I woke up in Knockalisheen and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. The basin had blood on it. Then on a different day it had mucus all over. In both days I lost my appetite. How nice it would be to have a bathroom that I didn’t have to share with strangers, and one that met my personal hygiene standards.
Then after breakfast, the first bus will leave the centre for town. It will only stay in the city centre for 15 minutes. If you are keen on getting back with same bus, it would be wise to know exactly what it is you want to buy and where in the store it is located. Avoid long queues or else you’ll spend 3 hours waiting in town for the next bus to the centre. This is the wait you’ll have to endure every Thursday after cashing your €21.60 cheque in the post office.
The bus will stop in front of Arthur’s Quay. Locals have no idea where the bus is from. Sometimes they ask thinking it is part of the public transport network. The driver usually tells them it’s a privately hired bus. Then there is the look on their faces when a lot of brown people start getting off the bus. They look on with curiosity.
Everyone in the post office who isn’t used to seeing that many black people in one room in Ireland looks around wondering what’s up? Then staff take your cheque, look at your PPS card, then look at you before they give you the €21.60. The post office staff may be the only ones who know that you are in the post office to claim your Direct Provision allowance.
Then you might go to language classes if you need help with English. Study the few FETAC courses that were available to all international protection applicants. Other than that, unless you are working illegally, your day is done. Go back to the centre. Play football if you fancy, then go get your meal at appropriate time and sleep. You may have to repeat this routine every day for several years. And each day you are reminded of the freedoms you don’t have. Because you see staff in the centre reporting for duty and wish it was you reporting for duty. But you can’t work, and as such, your social life is restricted, and you live your life in the shadows of Irish society.
Bulelani Mfaco is a gay asylum seeker who fled South Africa because of targeted violence against the LGBT+ community.
You can follow/support/contact MASI and their campaign for the #RightToWork via Facebook and Twitter @masi_asylum.
This article is from the Focus newspaper issue 103, which you can read in full here
State centre for asylum seekers ‘inappropriate’ for long stay (2009)
You can find Irish states’ official Reception and Intergration Agency’s (RIA) own reports into Knockalisheen Accommodation Centre here . They stand in contrast to the numerous media reports above about impacts in people forced to live in the direct provision system in the center.