We Haven’t “Repealed” Until We’ve Ended Direct Provision

 It’s been almost a month since we voted to Repeal the 8th Amendment and in that time it has felt like there has been a flurry of activity. Protests were arranged calling for access to abortion services in the North. The media was filled with articles and interviews filled with shock, surprise, and awe. The whole country cried, and laughed, and the huge breath everyone had been holding in was finally let go. But what about those in direct provision?

On May 26th there was collective sigh of relief as kettles were put on, shoes came off, and first pints were supped. But this feeling of relief wasn’t for everyone. For others, the ones who suffer greatest in Irish society access is still beyond their grasp. And many who leveraged this pain during the campaign aren’t doing much about it now.

During the campaign a well-worn sentence was trotted out. All women need access to healthcare services, including those who can’t travel and those in direct provision. Why were the most vulnerable put last? Tacked on. It became something you said to be inclusive. Rather than something that was integral. In real terms we heard one story; Savita Halappanavar. You know her name, you’ve seen her face. You’ve even heard from her parents. Her story that rang through the country. So much so some were calling for legislation to be called “Savita’s Law”. But how often was it mentioned that she was a migrant? We all know migrants, many of us are migrants. There’s no shame or shade in that. By keeping that out of the story, the issue was neatly stepped over. Again, and again, and again. But what about all the others we didn’t hear about.

What about Miss Y? Or the others who didn’t even get a letter. The issues faced by migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers were championed by those working with these communities. But largely glossed over by many of the larger groups. There was the occasional signposting but that felt perfunctory. Something to be picked up and dropped with ease. Despite those who work in the sector highlighting that these groups are disproportionately affected.

Emily Waszak, from MERJ (Migrants and Ethnic Minorities for Reproductive Justice) expressed anger at the lack of representation of migrant women in the campaigns. And the sidelining of their stories. “Campaigns are on one issue, but we need to think about reorganising the world we live in…that in our quest for change that comes from campaigning it’s important we don’t forget bigger issues….we don’t live single issue lives”. This idea of issues being intertwined was also at fore for Fiona Finn, the CEO of NASC. “We absolutely welcome the referendum result, as it will certainly help migrant, undocumented, refugee and asylum seeking women who for a variety of reasons may not be able to travel to access vital reproductive health services like abortion in other jurisdictions.  Repeal of the 8th amendment ensures that a woman’s health is the primary concern of the health system, regardless of someone’s immigration status, socioeconomic status or the colour of their skin we cannot forget that all of the conditions that have hampered migrant women’s ability to travel in the midst of crisis pregnancy – irregular immigration status, awaiting an asylum decision, lack of funds – continue regardless of this result.”

“…we cannot forget that all of the conditions that have hampered migrant women’s ability to travel in the midst of crisis pregnancy – irregular immigration status, awaiting an asylum decision, lack of funds – continue regardless of this result.”

When people talk about conscientious objection, they despair about how difficult it’ll be to go to another doctor. What about those who don’t have the option to go to another doctor. They are simply assigned one. What happens if their doctor decides to object? What would happen if we ended up with the Italian model? Despite passing abortion laws 40 years ago, 7:10 gynecologists in Italy refuse to perform them, rising as high as 93% in some areas. What happens to the people who don’t have the freedom of choice or movement? When people mention the 72 hour waiting period, they say that’s too long. With no mention of the women who can be locked out of centres if they aren’t back in time. Or will lose their place and aid if they leave the centre for more than 3 days. But they aren’t allowed rent private accommodation – if they could afford it – and have no right to transfer.

In direct provision single parent families, must share rooms with adult strangers. Young girls and women are particularly vulnerable. Such as the 14 year old in Mayo who was raped in a direct provision centre. When people mention that the cost should be minimal, there’s little acknowledgement that we have people up and down this country who our government have effectively blocked from working. They don’t mention those in direct provision who live on €21.60. Those who are prohibited from even holding a driving licence. How are they to access services?

During the launch of the Right2Work campaign, one speaker stood out to me the most. She spoke about how we need to be asking people “how can I help?”. Her point was simple but heartbreaking “when people in any system can’t do things for themselves it’s easy to lose [your] sanity…we want to contribute and give back to society. We don’t want to be on the receiving end [of help]…dependency should be temporary.” And she’s not alone in feeling this way.

For Fiona Finn, the next steps are simple “We must continue to work to ensure that all women living in Ireland are able to access all of the supports they need to make the reproductive and sexual health choices they desire to ensure that women are not living in poverty or isolation, have access to medical care, adequate employment and educational opportunities, access to childcare and free contraception, and free legal advice.”

In the shuffle for human rights, those who need them most are often the ones who fall through the cracks. We have a chance to put those people slap bang in the centre. If we haven’t won rights for everyone, then we haven’t won anything at all. So before we start tippexing Together for Yes signs to make Together for More signs as as Simon Harris is keen for us to do let’s make sure we actually have legislation that guarantees real abortion access for all pregnant people in Ireland, poor people, trans and non-binary people, people with disabilities, young people, migrants, ethnic minorities, people living in Direct Provision centres, those in rural regions and urban regions alike.

If you’re (even halfheartedly) leveraging someone’s pain on Friday you better still be standing beside them come Monday. And if we truly were marching under the mantra of free, safe, legal, then we need to be standing against direct provision. And all the legislation that underpins this system. For now, we should all be asking ourselves “how can I help?”

Get involved: NASC// MASI // Irish Refugee Council

Interested in social issues, read more here and here.

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