• Sarah Hamilton

Mental Health & Direct Provision

“We are powerless, just sitting ducks waiting to die.” Asylum seeker dies by expected suicide, just three months after suicide of Muhammad Arif Ahrar.

An extensive report has been published by the Irish Refugee Council that explores the heightened feelings of hopelessness and despair for asylum seekers living in Direct Provision during Covid-19. This month, a young man named Jeffrey died by expected suicide, after receiving a letter threatening deportation. Jeffrey, who was a resident in Atlas House Direct Provision Centre in Killarney, was said to have suffered from mental health problems and was fearful of returning to his home country.

The news of Jeffrey’s tragic death comes just three months after the suicide of asylum seeker Muhammad Arif Ahrar, who was self-isolating at the time in an emergency Direct Provision Centre in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan. Muhammad was in isolation due to Covid-related reasons but was not in a healthy mental condition. Isolation exacerbated this further.

In 2011, Justice Minister Alan Shatter told the Dáil that 49 asylum seekers had died by suicide while living in the country’s direct provision centres in the span of a decade. (Mostafa Darwish, Ref 1) In March 2015, the Institute of Race Relations published Unwanted, Unnoticed, a report documenting immigration-related deaths within the EU. For Ireland, the report identified 17 deaths directly linked to the Irish asylum system, and only two of these deceased people could be identified: Emmanuel Marcel Landa who died in Mosney DP centre and Tahir Mahmood who died in Clondalkin Towers DP. (John Grayson, Ref 2)In 2016, reported that: ‘61 people have died in Direct Provision in Ireland since 2002, 16 of whom were children aged five and under.’

(Tables from John Grayson, Ref 2)

Information on the number and cause of deaths in Direct Provision is challenging and currently not published. The Department of Justice stopped releasing annual records of asylum seeker deaths in 2017. Statistics that are available often do not cite a cause or suspected cause of death. The government came under criticism for this after the death of transgender woman Sylva Tukula, who died at the Great Western House Direct Provision Centre in Galway in August 2018. Sylva Tukula was buried by the State, without a service and without her friends being notified. (Cónal Thomas, Ref 3)

Former Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton TD stated at the time that “It is clear that there was a breakdown in communication in this particular case, which the Department very much regrets. The Department will take all necessary steps to ensure that this outcome is never repeated.”(Cónal Thomas)

The number of deaths and in particular, the number of suicides in Direct Provision centres has been described as ‘shambolic’ by Sharon Waters of the Irish Refugee Service. She explains how many asylum seekers arrive in Ireland in a ‘very distressed state’ – many self-harming and threatening suicide. ‘The agency takes the approach that it’s not responsible for the people involved, it’s just there to provide them with accommodation and food, but the fact is that these people are highly reliant on RIA and there are a lot of controls on them.’ (Speaking to, on 23 August 2013)

Direct Provision centres are operated by private firms which receive in the region of €50 million per annum in State funding. These firms are overseen by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA).

While RIA previously collected – and published – statistics on those who had died while living in Direct Provision, it no longer does, according to the justice department. In a statement, the Department said that while RIA will have in some cases general knowledge of the cause of death, it does not “seek information on protection applicants outside its remit”. (John Grayson)

Journalist Donal O’Keefe said of the statement that “the Department of Justice might as well actually add the words ‘Sure they’re only asylum-seekers.’” He adds:

‘these were de facto deaths in State custody … What stood out most for me was the 16-year-old asylum-seeker recorded simply as “sudden, died in school”. The sheer, breath-taking shoddiness of this is hard to exaggerate. Imagine having a duty of care to those under your roof and not even bothering to ascertain how a third of those who died in your care actually died. What’s really at issue here, of course, is an unwillingness to address whether the abysmal living conditions in Direct Provision affected the causes of deaths of these people.’ (Donal O’Keeffe, Ref 4)

Many asylum seekers enter Ireland having suffered trauma, death threats, and torture. Aside from this, they are now coping with the very real effects of the global pandemic. The Irish Refuge Council report states that half of the people currently in Direct Provision are unable to self-isolate due to spacing issues in centres. 42% share a bedroom with a non-family member while a further 46% share a bathroom with a non-family member. (Irish Refugee Council, Ref 5)

Jeffrey was a former resident of a Limerick-based Direct Provision Centre that came under scrutiny for its poor treatment of its residents and was eventually shut down. Some residents had claimed the accommodation was used as a sort of ‘punishment centre’ for troublesome – or troubled – asylum seekers, though this has been strongly denied by the Department of Justice. (Shamim Malekmian, Ref 6) Doras, an asylum rights NGO, warned that conditions at Mount Trenchard would have had lasting psychological scars on former residents.

Najaar Kalani, who lives in a shared room in Atlas House direct provision centre, where Jeffrey was currently living before he died, has said that he feels ‘it’s like a prison. No one is allowed to visit me in my room, and I am obligated to eat at specific times.’(Mostafa Darwish)

Muhammad Arif Ahrar was living in Monaghan in an emergency Direct Provision centre and was in isolation for Covid-related reasons at the time of his suicide in August. Residents in the centre described him as an ‘intelligent and educated’ man. Those close to him were fearful of his mental health at the time and urged him to go to the doctor. The doctor prescribed Muhammad with medication, but he was not taking these tablets at the time of his death. Residents said that he was ‘distraught’ in the days leading up to his suicide. He was twenty-five years old. (Shamim Malekmian)

Liam Thornton, a human rights lecturer at University College Dublin, puts it chillingly when he says, “given that direct provision offers no dignity for those subjected to this institution, it is not surprising that indignity would be imposed in death”. (Cónal Thomas)

Here at Let’s help Direct Provision, we attempt to bridge the gap between the public and those isolated and confined in Direct Provision centres. Throughout the pandemic, we have raised over €50,000 for the needs of asylum seekers. We have provided people with hygiene products, clothes, new school uniforms, leap cards, food, toys and much more.

Through the Let’s help Direct Provision patreon and donation drops, we have aimed to communicate to those who are feeling hopeless and in despair, that they are worthy of care, shelter, and safety. We understand that some children living in Direct Provision have never seen their parents cook meals or go to work, some of the things that we take for granted every single day. Eoin Ó Broin of Sinn Fein has spoken out against children being housed in these centres: “In Ireland, the one thing we do well is developing punitive regimes to punish children … There is an obsession with containment of those who we, as a society, find problematic or difficult to deal with. Children of asylum seekers are one such category.” (John Grayson) We want to let those in DP centres know that we are fighting for a brighter future, one that is not confined to four walls and shared spaces.

As the winter months press on and temperatures drop, with little daylight to shine in through our windows, we want to provide families and people in Direct Provision with gifts, necessities, and provisions. We would also gently urge those of you who are involved in our mission to email the Department of Justice, asking for answers on some of the unanswered questions at the treatment of asylum seekers in Ireland.

Promises have been made by the current Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party coalition government, including integrating a vulnerability assessment programme to help identify vulnerable residents, as part of its wider efforts to improve conditions in Direct Provision centres in Ireland. The coalition has also promised to end Direct Provision completely by the end of the Government’s lifetime.

If the reporting of this article has encouraged you to reach out to the Department of Justice, the emails are listed below:

Here are some questions you may want to ask the Department of Justice:

  • When is the integration of vulnerability assessment programme due to be implemented?

  • What will the results of the vulnerability assessment programme be for those who are vulnerable?

  • The Department of Justice has been quoted in many articles as saying support is made available to residents when an asylum seeker has passed away. What sort of support has been made available for those in Atlas House or the emergency centre in Carrickmacross?

  • What responsibility is the Department of Justice taking for mental health support and children-based activities in Direct Provision centres in Ireland?

  • When does the Department of Justice plan to publish death notices and causes of those in Direct Provision? Why have these ceased?

  • Why has a media protection order been advised for those who have died in Direct Provision by suicide?

If anything in this article has caused upset, please do not hesitate to reach out to Samaritans for support on 116 123 which is free from any phone.

Written by: Sarah Hamilton

References used:

  1. Mostafa Darwish

  2. John Grayson

  3. Cónal Thomas

  4. Donal O’Keeffe


  6. Shamim Malekmian


Please note, Reference 6 is no longer online and looks to have been removed by Hot Press. This was the only existing article, not including this blog post, that reported on Jeffrey’s death.

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