Knockalisheen is a mixed accommodation centre. There are several families living there and there are a lot of single men. Four out of the six blocks are occupied by single men. There are single ladies as well and many of them find it difficult to share communal spaces with men. When Donnah must go and queue in the canteen with children to get food, we queue with the children. One day one child went in to ask for a doughnut and was told that they had given him one already. The child wanted another doughnut. It is just a doughnut. Sometimes people do not even take those doughnuts and they serve them the following day, but they did not give it to the child. It is a child. It becomes difficult for parents. Donnah is a parent. I am sure she will speak about the difficulties parenting in direct provision.
From an integration point of view, the Reception and Integration Agency forgets what "Integration" in its name means. I do not think the people there even know that the word is in the agency's name because all they do is receive people. They take people's forms. What they give a person when he or she arrives in a direct provision centre is the house rules. They will tell a person when his or her meal times are. These varies from centre to centre. One will be told in the morning one will have breakfast, in the afternoon one will have lunch, and the time in the evening one will have dinner. In most of the centres where there are no cooking facilities, one is also told what to eat and when to eat it. One does not get to decide what to eat.
The strangest aspect for many people is that one goes into the centre and sees people eating and enjoying their food. Then one finds a friend sitting and asking, "How on earth are they enjoying this? This is terrible.", because tastes vary. We do not all like the same food. For example, we do not all like the same spices. When one walks into a canteen and smells the same spices, it almost smells the same every day. It is a canteen. If one goes into a hospital canteen or a prison canteen, it will have its own smell. When one lives in a direct provision centre, one recognises that every single day. When I leave here, I will go back to Knockalisheen. The moment I see the sign "Knockalisheen", I will be dreading it because I know the experience of having to live through waking up in the morning, a shower, going to eat and having no sense of purpose.
Meaning in life is lost when one is not allowed to work. One sees people coming in to do their work. Irish people who work in direct provision centres go in and report for duty every morning and one is reminded every day that one is not allowed to work. They are living life and one gets to sit and watch people live their lives. It is even worse in centres that are in the centre of cities. For example, those who live in the direct provision in Limerick city centre must watch people go about their daily lives and they are reminded every day that they are not allowed to go and do ordinary things that people do every day.
It becomes difficult to talk about integration when one is warehoused in a direct provision centre, such as Knockalisheen, where one has not access to public transport and one cannot go anywhere. Where one is given €38 a week without public transport, how will one socialise? What kind of social life will one live? As humans, we are social beings. If any Deputy or Senator in the room has a dog, he or she will know that one needs to take a dog out for walks, etc. If one only kept a dog in one room and gave it shelter and food, that dog would not be satisfied with life. In fact, it would be cruel not to take the dog out for a walk and let it do what dogs do, but we allow that to happen to people in the asylum system, to take away all the things that make us human, that is, all that human beings do. For instance, one cannot work. Since the beginning of time, if one studies the history of mankind, one will know that human beings have always worked to provide for themselves, for their loved ones and to improve the human experience on earth. Here, however, one takes a person, because he or she applied for asylum, and says that person is not allowed to work. Then it becomes difficult for the person to integrate into the community while he or she is in direct provision.
One cannot speak to me about integration while I am still segregated. I am using a segregated bus. When we get off the bus in Limerick city centre, we see all these brown people. One actually sees Irish people staring at us, as if to ask, "Where did this bus come from? Look at those brown people." They do not look like the committee members. They look different. It only hurts them. Everybody knows the bus is from a direct provision centre. When the bus shows up in a school, some of the schoolchildren are ashamed that their friends might know where they live but everybody knows that school bus will take them to a direct provision centre.
Every Thursday, we get a cheque from social welfare.
To claim that €38 per week allowance, one queues at the post office and produces one's PPSN card and cheque. Everybody in the queue in that post office then knows that one lives in a direct provision centre. It is written on the cheque receipt itself that it is a direct provision allowance. One is constantly reminded how bad one's life is and that one is not considered part of Irish society. One is divorced from social life. One cannot really socialise on €38.80 while living in Mount Trenchard.
There is no public transport in Knockalisheen or other direct provision centres. I had a hospital appointment, for example, which was at 9 a.m. I explained that to the community social welfare officer at Knockalisheen and asked if a supplementary allowance could be paid to cover travel. It was outside the normal bus schedule at Knockalisheen where there are three services a day. The first leaves at 10 a.m., the next is at 1 p.m. and the last is at 5 p.m. If one misses that, one is stuffed because one must then walk for over an hour. I needed to get to the hospital at 9 a.m. The officer said regional travel was not covered. The regional hospital is approximately 9 km from Knockalisheen. I had to Google that when I was wondering how to get there. I had to sit and argue with her over why I needed assistance to get to the hospital. I needed to go to hospital and see a doctor yet she simply said "We do not cover regional travel". It is dehumanising for a person to have to explain a very basic need for medical assistance. One needs to get to a hospital. It is almost as if they want us to get on our knees and beg for these things.
If I was not in a direct provision centre, I would have provided for my own medical expenses. The Department of Justice and Equality knows that. Where I come from, I worked and was studying and was able to provide for these very basic things. Now, however, we have to go and argue with bureaucrats and managers in the centre over the basic everyday things that people go through. It became very difficult for me to sit there and look at her to say "I have to get to a hospital". In the end, she said they would call a taxi. I was checking the metre. She stopped herself before suggesting I should walk there. At 9 km, I would probably have had to leave at 6 a.m. It is dehumanising for me to have to go through the process of explaining the need. It is self-explanatory that I have to get to hospital and receive the treatment I need. When that happened, I felt discouraged. It becomes very difficult to go through the same process again with the welfare officer. If I have another appointment, I will still have to go to see her. When the RIA says it is providing X or Y, it can tick a box. It says it has done this and that and that one is entitled to a medical card. While I have a medical card, I cannot put it under my feet and fly to the hospital.
That basic things are not there for people makes it very difficult to even hear the word "integration". It sickens me to hear it even from NGOs who come to direct provision centres and say they want to help integrate people. It is not helping to integrate a person if that person goes back at the end of the day to sleep in a direct provision centre. That alone should tell one that they are segregated from the communities in which those who say that live themselves. Residents do not live among communities, they live among people like themselves. That is where the fundamental problem is. We cannot begin to talk about integration while we still have direct provision. One cannot talk about integrating asylum seekers when a person can be removed from the State at any point. There is no integration there. If one wants to integrate people, one integrates them into the social life of the country so that they can socialise and one integrates them into political life. We have seen people run for election. One integrates them into the economic life of the country so that they can work and become productive and contributing members of society, thereby ending the profiteering. I talk a lot but before I stop I refer to one direct provision centre in Cork which had three bunk beds in one tiny room. There were six asylum seekers in that tiny room. That tiny room earns the company €6,300 per month. No one looking for a house to rent in Ireland would have to pay that much for a room. We allow it to happen here because it is happening to people who are not from here. It is happening to asylum seekers because the view is that they should be grateful that they are here and that they are given a bed and food. That is what we are told.
We are called welfare scroungers and in the recent election campaign we were called freeloaders. No asylum seeker has ever asked the Government for a plate of food. No one arrives at Dublin Airport and says "I would like to have food please". I am told I am being provided with food and a bed, but I never asked for any of that. I asked for protection. It becomes very difficult to even begin to talk about integration for us when we have been warehoused in direct provision centres without access to very basic everyday things and are being treated inhumanely by managers who can waltz into one's room without any consideration for one's privacy and without considering that people have suffered traumatic experiences. The State is warehousing vulnerable people with children, including women who feel unsafe in direct provision centres. We have had reports of sexual violence from AkiDwA and of the experiences of women feeling unsafe in direct provision centres. I said in response to a member earlier that people come here with fear already. When one puts them in a direct provision centre where they will experience the same fear, that alone tells one the system is not fit for purpose.