Guest post by Maeve Moynihan. Maeve is a recent graduate of the MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford currently working on a project entitled “Europe’s Stories” with the Dahrendorf Programme at St. Antony’s College, Oxford.

As a country with an extensive history of emigration, Ireland is often excluded from the discourse surrounding the ‘refugee crisis’ and migrant reception in mainland Europe. Despite this exclusion, Ireland has a unique story to tell about migration. For almost twenty years, Ireland has housed asylum seekers in empty hotels in rural areas throughout the country, known as Direct Provision Centres (DPCs). Although the Centres are not designed as detention facilities, this accommodation type has invited questions about coercive confinement, human rights violations, and the reception and integration of new arrivals.

As the number of asylum seekers has risen in Ireland over the past ten years, the country’s Direct Provision system has been under significant pressure. Under European Union law asylum seekers are entitled to ‘certain necessities that guarantee them an adequate standard of living’ as they await the status of their applications. However, each national government has discretion as to how these necessities are met. In 2000, Ireland chose to meet such needs through its ‘Direct Provision’ system for those under the asylum application process. Originally designed to support asylees for six to eight months, many asylum seekers have now been housed in DPCs for more than five years. By the end of 2018, almost 6,000 asylees were housed in Direct Provision.

While the Centres provide basic accommodation and meals, many asylees find the reality of living in the Centres difficult. In some centres, residents are required to sign in and out, cannot host guests, have no access to cooking facilities, have strict curfews, and are monitored by security guards. In recent years, such conditions have received significant negative attention and criticism from local and international media. Ireland’s long history of coercive confinement and the criminalization of ‘deviant’ individuals, including mothers out of wedlock and those with psychiatric differences, has caused human rights advocates to question the moral and ethical implications of Direct Provision. Some communities, such as the famous matchmaking town of Lisdoonvarna, have facilitated a peaceful relationship with the Direct Provision Centre in the town. However, in other communities, arson attacks and stark opposition to proposed Centres suggest violent anti-migrant sentiments. Despite criticism and the events associated with proposed Centres, few alternatives have been proposed and the number of asylees continues to increase.

As the number of applicants for international protection increases and the housing shortage grows in Ireland, the Government has turned to contracting empty hotels in rural areas to serve as DPCs. Although dispersal of asylum seekers and migrants is framed as an attempt to revitalize rural areas and integrate new arrivals, such areas are often under-resourced and unable to support such swift population change and integration, as shown in the work of Ruth McAreavey. While rural dispersion is convenient private hotel owners, who have received over €72 million in funds from the Government, rural areas provide little opportunity for asylees. The lack of public transportation and barriers to finding employment make the line between open accommodation and confinement difficult to draw in practice. in Direct Provision receive a weekly allowance of €38.80 per adult and €29.80 per child, per week as of March 2019. While some meet certain conditions and have the right to work (since June 2018), only about 15% of them are employed.

Rural dispersion of asylum seekers is not unique to Ireland. In Denmark, the government has increased the number of rural asylum reception centres as Zachary Whyte and colleagues have demonstrated. Subsequently, many successful asylum seekers who receive protected refugee status are dispersed into small, often rural, Danish villages as Birgitte Larsen has found. The government sees this as an opportunity for new refugees to integrate and adapt to ethnically homogenous communities that embody the true character of the nation, as Larsen argues. If refused asylum, however, individuals are temporarily housed in a ‘deportation center,’ a former prison, until they are transported out of the country.

Direct Provision Centres are not housed in former prisons, but the conditions in many hotels eerily resemble certain procedures in confinement facilities. Such parallels invite important questions about Direct Provision and the continuing story of migration and confinement in Ireland. Mary Bosworth has argued that UK immigration removal centres blur the lines between civil and criminal confinement, thus transforming the idea of justice. In a similar way, Direct Provision Centres dangerously blur the lines of fair and equal treatment of asylees. As Ireland embarks upon a new strategic plan for the future of the nation, Project Ireland 2040, asylees and critics of Direct Provision eagerly await news of a new turn in migrant reception that focuses less on confinement and more on compassion.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Moynihan, M. (2020). Confinement? Asylum Seekers and Rural Dispersion in Ireland’s Direct Provision System. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2020/01/confinement (Accessed [date])