Azwar Fuard (left) and his wife Safra Banu with their daughter Mariyam pictured last August after their arrival in Tullamore
AN asylum seeker who is living in the Tullamore direct provision centre has praised the quality of the accommodation which has been provided for his family, compared to many other facilities.
Azwar Fuard, 39, fled his native Sri Lanka along with his wife Safra Banu and three-year-old daughter Mariyam because of persecution of the Tamil Muslim minority.
He was first accommodated in a former hotel in Dublin and then moved to another direct provision centre which had been established at the Skellig Star Hotel in Cahirsiveen, Co Kerry.
The Cahirsiveen facility became embroiled in controversy when residents complained about unsuitable conditions there and up to 25 of them had tested positive for Covid-19 by June 2020.
Mr Fuard said he had concerns about the centre from the very start.
“When we went inside the building we realised it was a single building, with high density of residents, more than 100 residents including nine children,” he said. “The situation was not okay and the facilities were not up to standard, the precautions were not satisfied.”
“The communal eating area was not suitable, Covid testing was not done before moving people during the pandemic, time was not adequate for new arrivals, and different groups were mixing together, leading to increased risk of infection.
“The way it was handled at first was giving a very low confidence for the residents.”
He had been heartened on his arrival in the Co Kerry town by the welcome the asylum seekers had received from local people but growing discontent about the direct provision centre itself prompted calls for its closure.
A number of residents, including Mr Fuard, went on hunger strike and there was intense lobbying for a transfer to other locations.
Two days later the Government announced its closure and the Sri Lankan man, who luckily escaped the coronavirus, said he was impressed with how democracy worked in Ireland.
“We decided to highlight this issue in a democratic way to the Government and it reached to a high level, even the Dail, and they decided to move the people,” he said.
“It [was] a good victory. We were able to test the democracy, which was lacking in our own country, a reason we had to leave our former habitual land seeking protection here.
“On the last day of July [Justice Minister] Helen McEntee announced in the Dail they were going to close the centre and would be moving the people group by group.”
He learned he and his family were to be accommodated in Tullamore, where the direct provision centre had been established at the former Marian Hostel on High Street, and in two houses across the street, earlier in the year.
“I didn't know Tullamore. I [only knew] it was in the Midlands because I checked on the map.”
He said he was impressed when he arrived because he could see how different the Tullamore facility was from those in Dublin and Cahirsiveen.
“In Tullamore I am very happy about the setting because I have been in two others and I have the knowledge about other centres... so by comparing those things I feel Tullamore [is] a very good set-up.”
He said the Tullamore centre, which is run by Bridgestock Care, has a large number of “excellent” staff who are constantly cleaning, disinfecting and meeting the needs of the residents.
Because of the layout of the buildings the individual families have privacy and he is especially pleased with the cooking facilities.
Unlike the other centres, all the residents families can cook for themselves, socially distant in a very large kitchen, and they use food purchased on-site.
“I think a set-up like this should be encouraged instead of a confined [one] without cooking facility. The way [Cahirsiveen] was opened was wrong.”
Mr Fuard said he is aware of just a couple of positive Covid-19 cases in Tullamore and those were immediately dealt with by isolation.
He is also happy with the welcome the asylum seekers have received and the offers of help which have been given.
After arriving in Ireland, Mr Fuard, who is a marketing graduate, worked promoting Electric Ireland products but the employment was cut short because of the Covid-19 lockdown. He has since secured employment again in Dublin.
His wife is currently studying for qualifications in childcare. They are paid the direct provision allowance of €38.80 per week each.
He said both of them experienced discrimination in their home city, Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, and he would be fearful about returning there.
His main concern at present is the slow pace of the asylum application process and he has been told that understaffing, and delays caused by the pandemic, have further delayed assessments.
“The process time is very high, more than one year, and when the process time is very high the Government is spending a lot of money on direct provision and accommodation,” he said.
“The Government should concentrate on speeding up the process and if the asylum seekers are suitable [for asylum], grant them and they'll go out of direct provision and start their own life. If they are not suitable, move them to the next stage or move them away from the country.
“If they delay the process the people who suffer are those who come with problems, they will be still suffering inside the process for a longer period. I do not encourage the life in direct provision [because] it restricts on individual development and [is] depressive.”
In the case of his own family he says the assessment interviews were postponed at least three times.
While he awaits the completion of his application, he says he is very pleased with the welcome he and his family have received in Cahersiveen and Tullamore: “People of the community are really helping us. We feel very good, [they are] very warm people, they are even trying to support us in finding jobs and guiding for further education.”
He concluded: “I am very happy at the way the Irish people welcomed us and the way they speak and the way they help each other.”
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