Frontline workers seeking asylum fear deportation

File photo.
By Aoife Moore

Frontline healthcare workers seeking asylum in Ireland have concerns they will be deported when the pandemic ends.

There have been calls for the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to expedite the asylum claims of workers living in Direct Provision similar to moves that have been made in the British NHS.

Around 160 people who are currently living in Direct Provision work in frontline health services, and some are concerned they could be deported post-Covid-19 after risking their lives.

These workers have been moved from often overcrowded centres into B&Bs or hotels for the duration of the emergency, but have not yet been told when they can return, or when their asylum claim will be processed.

A source inside the Department of Justice says it's likely considerations to speed up these claims would be examined when the current health emergency is over, and "a conversation to be had over the summer", as the minister has "broad discretion" in such matters, and has intervened in other cases of unfair deportations of young children or families.

The source added Minister Flanagan was likely to be agreeable to the idea, while Minister for Health Simon Harris publicly thanked the 160 workers in the Dáil.

The families of NHS workers in England who have died during the Covid-19 pandemic have been given leave to remain by Boris Johnson's government, amid calls for a similar action to be implemented here for the workers themselves.

Current asylum and immigration claims have been on pause since the beginning of the pandemic, and are due to resume on July 20.

One asylum seeker from Zimbabwe who works in a care home where three people have died of Covid-19, told the Examiner she goes to work every day afraid that she will be deported when the pandemic ends.

"The first days of the pandemic were very scary, we were hearing people dying in other countries and I was travelling to work in the nursing home, and back home to the Direct Provision centre," she said.

"Residents in direct provision had complained to the manager that the nursing home staff were going to bring the infection back to the centre, and my manager at work was worried I would bring it from Direct Provision, and I was stuck in the middle."

The young woman came to Ireland alone four years ago seeking asylum, and has no indication of when her claim will be processed.

"They don't have a time scale and they reply when they want to, I've never received any response, everything is quiet," she said.

I'm afraid that maybe after the pandemic I'll end up receiving a deportation letter, after risking my life during the crisis.

"I'm always worried about it, and when the pandemic started, I thought about just staying at home and not going to work but I thought of the people in the nursing home, they are the family I have in Ireland, that's the reason I had to go back.

"I think I should be allowed to remain, I'm doing something to help. I've gone to college, I'm working in a nursing home, willing to give back to the community.

"I have my advanced certificate to work with people with disabilities, so I'm looking to go into that field, I would love to do mental health nursing."

Brian Killoran, from the Immigrant Council of Ireland says the state should use the pandemic as an opportunity to reexamine how it treats those seeking asylum.

"This pandemic has definitely highlighted not just those who are in the asylum process, but a lot of essential workers are from a migrant background in precarious visa situations, in stark contrast to the massive contribution they make to Irish society," he said.

"This precarious status doesn't given them an awful lot of rights, and at the very least we should redouble our efforts to reform the immigration system to get people from precarious fragile immigration status to more secure status and greater rights, which doesn't just benefit them, it benefits all of us and betters society.

"The pandemic really highlights the disparity between the sacrifices people make and the situation they're in, and that has to be addressed.

"When we get into the question of residency we feel consideration should be given to those kinds of actions, any improvement not only benefits them, it benefits employers, and society in general.

"The Irish immigraiton system is complex, we definitely feel there should be considerations given to these essential workers and if it were considered, more secure status.

"It's been proven since asylum seekers were given the right to work, there is enthusiasm to get out there and contribute and that's never been more acutely seen than the 160 people in the health sector during the pandemic.

"Ultimately with asylum applications, the duration of time is very problematic, the root cause of the issues with Direct Provision is because it takes so long, when you get back to immigation reform, the minister has enormous discretion to make decisions on individual cases, the administration processes are very drawn out and beautractraic, and they don't have to be."

A Department of Justice spokesman said that asylum claims are processed on a "case by case" basis, however considerations are given to the "common good" and "the character and conduct of the applicant both within and (where relevant and ascertainable) outside the State".