Hunger Strikes & Direct Provision
‘My son, I have a feeling that it’s the last time I will see you. I will never see you again.’
These were the last words spoken by Hayan Ibrahim’s father before Hayan fled Syria and made his way to Ireland. Today marks the sixth day that the thirty-five-year-old asylum seeker has been on Hunger Strike. Based in Direct Provision Centre in Mosney, Co. Meath, Ibrahim has declared that he is willing to go on Hunger Strike until death, if the Government do not grant him the right to work in Ireland and provide for his family.
Ibrahim left his elderly parents in Syria. His father has health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. His mother has been unable to pay their rent for months and was seen by a neighbour rooting through trash cans in an attempt to source food, which Ibrahim was informed by via Whatsapp. Announcing his Strike, Ibrahim said that he is willing to die, ‘Because I die a thousand times every day while I am watching my parents die of oppression, hunger and illnesses.’ Speaking with LMFM News, he echoed the words of his statement posted by @abolishdp and said ‘If I cannot support my family, they will die. I prefer to die before them.’
The solicitor fled his war-torn country after suffering devastating consequences when he appeared on a political television show. After criticizing the Syrian constitution, Ibrahim was arrested by the Assad regime where he was detained and then tortured for months. Maya, his wife-to-be was also tortured and unfortunately did not survive the brutal mistreatment. Ibrahim was finally released on the conditions that he would join the army to fight in the Civil War. Since he refused, the threat of his life was so strong that he escaped to Ireland in the hopes of a better future for him and his family.
Ibrahim arrived in Ireland in August 2020. Current regulations set by the Department of Justice state that an asylum seeker cannot work until they have been in Ireland for six months. Ibrahim was given a temporary residency card when he arrived. When he attempted to apply for a work permit, he was told by immigration authorities that his residency card had expired. Hence, the government has denied his application for a work permit. Ibrahim has appealed this decision, but there have been many cases where asylum seekers are left waiting years for their residency card to be renewed. In fact, some of the asylum seekers who share residency in the Mosney centre with Ibrahim have been waiting for as long as six years. This pigeon-holes asylum seekers into a poverty trap, where they are unable to provide for themselves or their families.
Ibrahim more than fits the description of an asylum seeker that is vulnerable and at risk of self-harm. Complications with his right to work may only push him into this category further. He has spoken of the many mental health issues he has been left with as a result of his trauma, including PTSD, insomnia and depression. The Beacon cites such delays by the government as ‘legalized cruelty’.
What Happens To The Body On Hunger Strike?
Hunger strikes have been used as desperate pleas by asylum seekers to be heard by government bodies for many years. But what are the physical effects of such protest?
The Lancet, a British medical journal states that if a person is also refusing liquids, including water, ‘deterioration is very rapid, with death quite possible within seven to 14 days. Low levels of thiamine (vitamin B1) become a real risk after two or three weeks and can result in severe neurological problems, including cognitive impairment, vision loss and lack of motor skills.
The Lancet also cites the psychological effects of hunger strikes, including impulsivity. The Journal of Medical Ethics states that these effects can ‘enhance the likelihood that strikers will starve themselves to death’.
There are reports that emergency services were called to the centre on Monday evening after Ibrahim had not eaten for five days. In a statement issued on Monday evening, the Department of Justice said that it cannot comment on any individual immigration or international protection cases for confidentiality reasons.
Originally, asylum seekers had to wait nine months before they could apply for work. But on the 28th of January, The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD announced new measures that allows applicants to seek work six months after they make their application. The TD also extended the applicant’s permission to work from six months to twelve months. However, the extensively long waiting time seen in many cases for asylum seekers to have their residency cards renewed makes their ability to work a complex and somewhat impossible goal to reach. Also, there is little known for the future of those in Direct Provision after their yearly allowance of work has ended.
A spokesperson for The Department of Justice declared that "anyone who has a query about their application for international protection should contact the International Protection Office directly for an update in confidence."This is not the first time residents in Direct Provision have gone on hunger strike. A DP Centre in Sligo had residents go on hunger strike for 35 days. Abrahim has already surpassed the hunger strikers of March last year, who went three days without any food. @abolishdp have resources on their Instagram page that tells you how to email your local TD’s, as well as The Department of Justice. We have seen in many trials that there is power in numbers. Here at Let’s Help, we would greatly encourage anyone in amplifying Abrahim’s story and getting him the answers and the movement on his case that he deserves, as do many others in his position.