My research was rooted in Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality. Crenshaw was a legal and critical race theorist who sought to highlight the unique oppression, privilege and experience afforded to people based upon social constructs such as gender, race, class, or sexual orientation. She argued that the society in which she lived was both patriarchal and racist, and therefore, black women face unique oppression compared to white women or black men. Although the theory of intersectionality was initially rooted in black feminist thought, it is extremely pertinent to the experience of queer asylum seekers in Ireland. It is undeniable that anyone forced to reside in the system of DP faces extreme and harsh state-sponsored oppression and discrimination. But what are the unique experiences of queer residents of this system?
Although the theory of intersectionality was initially rooted in black feminist thought, it is extremely pertinent to the experience of queer asylum seekers in Ireland.
It is no surprise that DP is a deeply flawed and insufficient system for accommodating asylum seekers. Residents suffer disproportionately from mental health issues, such as depression or isolation, compared to the general population. Residents become de-skilled, bored and idle. Many residents also face a deterioration in their physical health. Desperately needed external services are often blocked from accessing the most vulnerable members of DP due to strict regulations. Queer residents are some of the most vulnerable residents of DP and, unfortunately, they are the most at risk of falling through the cracks and suffering excessively from such issues.
Another issue that plagues all residents of DP is the lack of privacy. Most residents of DP are expected to share bedrooms. Large families are squeezed into former hotel rooms. Single residents must share bedrooms with up to six other residents. This is particularly problematic and damaging for queer residents. Certain asylum seekers from deeply homophobic cultures can be assigned to the same rooms as queer residents. This is incredibly damaging for queer residents who face re-closeting, verbal abuse and even physical violence. This often leads to a compounding of isolation, depression and other mental health issues. It is clear that “safe, quality accommodation which promotes your well being”, a phrase from the House Rules of Direct Provision centres, is a fantasy for many queer residents.
A particularly vulnerable population is transgender residents. It is no secret that transgender people living in Ireland, regardless of citizenship, face significant challenges and difficulties. They experience some of the highest rates of suicidal ideation, regular harassment, violence and systemic discrimination. On top of this, life-saving services are incredibly limited with only two consultants in Ireland providing hormone replacement therapy with a waiting list in excess of two years. Furthermore, accessing services for healthcare or legal services to update one’s gender identity can be extremely expensive. These challenges are extremely exacting on the general population. However, trans people living in DP have to contend with these issues while also navigating harassment, violence, isolation, depression and recloseting, that other queer residents face. Additionally, DP is an incredibly gendered system, where centres and sleeping areas are often strictly divided by gender. This can create anxiety and oppression for trans and gender non-conforming residents who must comply with the binary parameters of DP.
These challenges are extremely exacting on the general population. However, trans people living in DP have to contend with these issues while also navigating harassment, violence, isolation, depression and recloseting, that other queer residents face.
The experience of queer residents in urban and rural areas differs dramatically. The majority of NGOs and charities that work in the area of refugee and asylum seeker rights or LGBTI rights are clustered in big cities. Furthermore, they are incredibly under-funded so they have limited resources for outreach to rural DP centres. Combined with restrictive centre policies that prevent external organisations from entering into DP centres, queer residents who are dispersed to rural centres often experience the extreme isolation which can compound many of the issues mentioned above.
Several concrete steps emerged which would improve the situation for residents of DP, particularly queer residents. First and foremost, it is imperative to end Direct Provision. It is a failed government experiment that strips residents of basic dignity and fundamental human rights. Instead, we need a system that is transparent and standardised – allow NGOs and charities access to provide the services that should be provided by the state. Private rooms would benefit all residents by affording them a space of their own in which they can fully be themselves – this would obviously be particularly beneficial to queer residents. The right to work for asylum seekers must be further liberalised where residents of DP enjoy equitable access to meaningful work. Not only will this provide residents with financial independence, but also structure, purpose, an opportunity to practice their trade and an opportunity to integrate into Irish society. In line with the EU Reception Conditions Directive, vulnerability assessments should be introduced upon arrival for all asylum seekers. Queer asylum seekers are an incredibly vulnerable population and they should be treated as such. Finally, queer sensitivity training for both staff members and residents in DP should be introduced. Residents of DP come from many different cultures and regions so it is important to highlight to all residents the norms and laws relating to queer people in Ireland. For staff members, it is inexcusable that there were several reports of homophobic and discriminatory behaviours and this needs to be eradicated immediately.
The needs and experiences of queer residents of DP are being ignored. It is imperative that government agencies adopt an intersectional approach when developing future policies and programmes. Queer asylum seekers need to be recognised as an integral part of both the queer community and asylum seekers in Ireland. If we truly want to live in a country of justice, equality and nondiscrimination, as we so often promote to the world, we need to include everyone. We are currently failing our asylum seekers and particularly our queer asylum seekers. In order to ensure that we are living in a truly just and equal country, we must take into account the considerations of everyone living in the state, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion or legal status.
Several concrete steps emerged which would improve the situation for residents of DP, particularly queer residents. First and foremost, it is imperative to end Direct Provision.