It was Wednesday night. A month into the Pandemic. I just got a call from agent SVP, telling me the goods would be delivered on Friday. After one failed attempt, we could not afford to miss the opportunity again.
I called Nicole and told her that the delivery would happen on Friday at 3 PM. Would all the accomplices be there? She confirmed they would be present. Now the real planning began. Mother A’s husband has a small pick up truck. He would come to the car park across the road, where The Gang of Hygienic Mothers will meet the SVP agent. The merchandise will be transferred from the van into the pick-up truck. Lying flat, so nobody can see them. The pickup truck will then be parked on the DP car park. The Gang of Hygienic Mothers will wait to collect the items until dark when security agents can’t see what is going on.
As I could not be present because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, I asked to be given a sign when the articles were delivered. Friday came, tensions were rising. Apart from floor mops, agent SVP had also provided soaps and sprays. Hopefully, all would go as planned. I got a message at 5 PM. Goods delivered, they are in the van, the Gang of Hygienic Women will collect at 9PM.
Next would be the delivery by Agent CT. She had promised pasta, sauces and bread! Unfortunately, that one didn’t go so well. The security guard had noticed the goods the gang was carrying and told them that IPAS had said that no foods should be allowed on the premises and asked if this came from Penny Diners? He was overpowered by The Gang of Hygienic Women, not physically, but with wit and intellect. He gave up. But vowed not to ever let this happen again.
This, my friends, is how we are now forced to act. Like smugglers in the dark. We have had a good laugh about it over the phone, but actually, it is only tragi-comic.
Why, might you say, would you want to smuggle floor mops into a direct provision centre? Well, the answer is simple. There are now 14 communal kitchens in this particular centre. The kitchen is not supplied with a mop, so any time someone spills something, or in case the dishwasher leaks (which it does in some cases) the residents have to go and get their own mop from their room. It was never a problem, until COVID-19. The residents do not want to use their personal mop in a communal kitchen for obvious reasons. Rather than asking for mops, and waiting for weeks before the approval and the delivery (if that would even happen), we thought it better to just supply them, only, it had to be done in secret because the first delivery of kitchen rolls (again to replace the dishcloths which are never replaced and never sterilised according to the residents), did not go well at all. The manager wanted to refuse them, but CT, or agent CT as I now call her, was not going to let Bridget the manager get away with it.
It seems to me, that after that event the manager made it clear that donations by Penny Diners had to be refused. This rule is not written down anywhere, it is not issued by anyone, just a word-of-mouth rule, which we don’t need to listen to. But rather than creating more problems, we now deliver in secret.
Last Thursday, I was woken up by a call at 4 AM in the morning. It was a distressed resident. A devout Muslim who is fasting for Ramadan. She had been preparing food in the kitchen without booking a place and was asked by the manager to leave (admittedly there were 6 in the kitchen and there should only have been 5, because of social distancing rule). The lady (I will call her Anaya) refused to go, as she was not the only one there who hadn’t booked and she felt targetted by Bridget. An argument followed. One resident said Anaya could have his place, as he was alone and would wait until Anaya finished. But the manager wasn’t having it. She took Anaya’s food, (she had just been washing some vegetables) left the kitchen and took it to the reception. Anaya could not believe the childish reaction. She had another argument with Bridget who told her ‘May Allah forgive you for your lies’. We are not in primary school here. We are talking about adults, Anaya has a degree in economics. Bridget told Anaya she would report her, Anaya said ‘OK, so will I’. The next day, while Anaya was cooking (booked this time to be sure) she was having fun with the other residents. Ramadan is a very social event and Anaya is a great chef, she cooks for Iftar and shares her food with many people. She loves this time of the year. While the cooking was going on, Bridget went to slip a letter under her door. It was a warning from IPAS. It said that Anaya had committed a serious breach of house rules and if it happened again, sanctions would follow. She could get banned from using the kitchen or be transferred to another DP centre. Hence the call at 4 AM. The poor woman was angry, anxious and was slipping back into a depression she had suffered from for a long time. (Anaya had been there for 6 years. She has received the leave to remain, but has not been successful in finding a home yet).
At the start of the pandemic, Mustafa (not his real name) came the canteen at the start of lunchtime and asked to fill a bottle with milk for his 3-year-old daughter.
When he left the canteen, the manager came storming after him. She told him to never do that again. That the staff was overworked because of social distancing rules and that he should wait till the end of lunchtime before asking for milk, or just go and buy it himself in the nearby shop.
The child needed milk, Mustafa and his family are self-isolating. He asked for 1 litre of milk. He has no right to work and gets a minimal amount of money every week. Nobody in the canteen was overworked, nobody felt they had been waiting too long. There wasn’t really a problem. Mustafa felt targetted, He was angry. Mustafa has been in Direct Provision in Ireland for over four years with his wife. His child was born here.
I can go on telling more similar stories. They all have one thing in common: an outrageous reaction of the manager over a small insignificant thing.
Every issue mentioned here could have been solved by a calm conversation, empathy and a little friendliness. Instead, residents feel insulted, angry, frustrated, and in the case of smuggling floor mops, rather ridiculous.
If the manager had true leadership qualities and would understand the psyche of people in direct provision, these issues would have been non-existent. And in times of Crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, we need leaders.
I don’t blame the manager in one way. She applied for a job of manager of a catering facility. Her experience as a hotel manager would help with that.
She was not trained to work with often deeply traumatised people who are stressed out by the system. What did she know she was getting into? The truth is that IPAS should have known better. Managing a refugee centre should be a little more than making sure everyone has a bed, and that there is food in the canteen.
What these issues show yet again is that direct provision centres are not fit for purpose, are run by incompetent people who have no clue about intercultural communities or intercultural dialogue. They are hotel managers. Why not just finally get rid of these centres and send the managers where they belong: in the tourist industry.