Ellie Kisyombe has lived in direct provision for eight years. Recently, she was moved from a self-catered apartment to a “proper direct-provision centre”, which she says is “like a prison”.

Residents can’t go to their own spaces without passing reception, and a security check, she says. “Someone is literally controlling you.”

In your own home, you can invite anyone over, to have a chat or cook a meal. But in direct-provision centres, visitation rights are restricted, and this can be “damaging”, she says.

“They don’t want people to come to the centres because they don’t want them to see the conditions in them,” Kisyombe says. “It’s not a good life. I’m living in hell at the moment.”

According to the Department of Justice’s Reception and Integration Agency, residents in direct-provision centres can have guests between 10am and 10pm.

But privacy can be restricted, with visits confined to designated spaces and hours, and according to some who have lived in the system it’s not always so simple, especially in single-sex centres.

No Privacy

This can make it hard for people to spend time with their partners in direct provision.

There were roughly 5,300 people as of May, who were waiting in these complexes while their applications for refugee status are processed. Some can be there for many years.

Lucky Khambule, who works with the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, says he got a call a couple of months ago from a friend of his living in an all-male direct-provision centre.

“The problem was that before he got married to his wife, his wife used to visit him and they used to give him a hard time about her being there,” says Khambule.

The trouble continued for Khambule’s friend even after he and his partner married, Khambule says.

“They wouldn’t allow her in. They chased her away – that’s what she said. He couldn’t take it anymore, so they moved away. They needed to be together.”

Khambule says it’s not uncommon for this to happen in all-male direct-provision hostels, but he says there’s no sense in the rule.

“They hide behind the RIA (Reception and Integration Agency) rules, but they don’t consider the human being behind them,” he says.

According to the RIA, residents in direct-provision centres are allowed visitors between 10 am and 10 pm.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said, by email, that designated visiting rooms that can be booked in advance are provided in all centres, but Khambule is sceptical.

“I want to see a centre that has that. I was in a centre for four years and we never had a room like that,” he says. “We had a kitchen, common room and bedroom. They don’t have any facilities for private conversations.”

It’s a simple thing, says Khambule, “but they don’t realise how powerful it is for the people they are taking this from”.

Not Enough Change

In a 2014 case, the High Court held that an outright ban on visitors to the private rooms of people living in direct provision – day or night – was disproportionate and unjustified.

The space occupied by asylum seekers in direct-provision centres constitutes their home, and they have the same constitutional rights within the home as citizens, according to solicitor Carol Sinnott, who has been involved in a number of high-profile asylum and immigration cases. 

In 2015, the RIA rules were updated to include a complaints procedure, and remove the requirement for residents of direct-provision centres to sign in daily.

But Jennifer DeWan of the Irish Immigrant Support Centre (NASC) says the group doesn’t think these changes reflect the spirit of the court’s ruling: that privacy is a priority in direct-provision centres.

If people wanted to have visitors in the past, they were often refused, says DeWan, so the RIA set up visitor spaces, “but we would argue that this doesn’t allow for people’s private life”.

What people want out of visitation isn’t available to them, says DeWan, “if people meet a significant other outside the system, they can’t be in their room. A public space is provided, but that’s not what they want.”

The problem is that there’s no place for residents of direct-provision centres to get any privacy with their visitors, says Khambule.

They live like this not for weeks or months, he said, but for years.

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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