As the world responds to the unprecedented crisis unfolding from the COVID-19 pandemic, all people should have the same access to care and safety — and people seeking international protection must not be left behind.
We know this is a challenging time for the Irish government, However, human rights must be at the centre of all prevention, preparedness, containment and treatment efforts from the start, in order to best protect public health and support the groups and people who are most at risk. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights guarantees “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”, including steps to be taken necessary for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases”.
In this current context, it is important to note that the right to health is not limited to access to healthcare for those who contract COVID-19, but also to preventing people’s exposure to this virus insofar as is possible.
The Government is responsible for protecting the health and lives of everyone in its jurisdiction, including people seeking international protection; and must take all necessary measures to ensure their safety. People in Direct Provision centres face these uncertain times in settings which make ensuring their health and wellbeing all the more difficult. They face additional barriers to being able to adequately protect themselves against COVID-19, including taking the key preventive measures advised by the Government: frequent hand washing, social distancing and self-isolation. Rapid spread and increased risk of infection within crowded centres are of major concern.
Of special concern are those at highest risk of severe illness and death if they contract COVID-19, including older adults and people within the HSE risk categories. This of course also applies to many Direct Provision residents. As a matter of priority, one of the most critical steps the Government must immediately implement is to move the most vulnerable people out of Direct Provision centres to spaces where they can be safely housed in isolation.
However, in order for the Government to fulfil its obligations to protect the health and lives of people seeking international protection, this action alone would be insufficient. As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government must also ensure that critical steps are taken to mitigate the risk of infection, illness and death for all people in Direct Provision and emergency accommodation centres. This includes urgently taking all possible measures to enable self-isolation and social distancing..
We maintain our broader calls on the Government to end Direct Provision and develop an alternative that is human rights-compliant, in meaningful consultation with stakeholders and people who are living or have lived through Direct Provision. However, as a matter of urgency, and given the specific risks that people living in Direct Provision face in the context of the spread of COVID-19, we call on the Government to put in place measures to:
· Immediately transfer vulnerable people from Direct Provision centres to adequate facilities;
· Ensure that any preventive measures put in place or advised by the Government also apply to and are implemented in Direct Provision centres and emergency accommodation, and that people living in these facilities have the same opportunities to protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19 as do the rest of the people in Ireland;
· On the basis of the inadequacy of current accommodation for the prevention of exposure to COVID-19 and where suitable alternative accommodation facilities are available, consider moving all residents from Direct Provision centres and placing them in adequate accommodation which better allows them to protect themselves;
· Ensure people seeking international protection have effective and prompt access to healthcare, treatment and medicines, where needed;
· Ensure effective access to information, communicated in a manner and language which is accessible and appropriate;
· Ensure that relocating people to other accommodation does not create burdensome expenses or other barriers which would adversely affect their access to employment, social protection or education.