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Achill gifts given to asylum seekers


Asylum seekers ‘frightened’ by Direct Provision controversies

Edwin McGreal

Symbolic gifts from Achill were presented at the weekend to asylum seekers who had been due to arrive at emergency accommodation on the island earlier this month.
Plans to house 13 women at the Achill Head Hotel in Pollagh on Friday, November 1, were called off the night before by the Department of Justice who said they were doing so because ‘an ongoing protest remains in place outside the hotel’.
Some locals have been protesting at the hotel against what they say is the unsuitability of the hotel and the location. They also state they are opposed to the system of Direct Provision for asylum seekers in Ireland.
A separate group, Achill Says Welcome, has also been set up. Opposed to Direct Provision and critical of the Government’s approach on the issue, the group says its members nonetheless wish to make asylum seekers coming to Achill feel welcome and help them to integrate into the community.
The welcome group organised the presentation of a number of symbolic gifts to some of the 13 women who were due to be housed at the Achill Head Hotel.
The Achill Head Hotel has been given a three month contract as an emergency Direct Provision centre. News of the plans emerged locally on Wednesday, October 23, and a public meeting was held in Achill that night.
Protests took place in the three days that followed and concerns were raised when the Department said the hotel would house 38 men.
However, following negotiations, that was changed to 13 women, who were due to arrive on Friday, November 1, with 25 people, consisting of family groups, due to arrive a week later.
However, those plans remain deadlocked. Protestors continue to maintain a 24-hour presence at the hotel.
At the weekend, Achill Says Welcome organised the presentation of gifts from people in Achill to some of the women, who are currently based in Dublin. One of the group, Fionnbarra Mac Eachmharcaigh, brought the gifts to the women.
The gifts included some amethyst, a bright crystal associated with Achill; some pottery from Achill; drawings by local children and cards.
Mr Mac Eachmharcaigh said the women were pleased to hear about the group.
“They were delighted to hear about our group and the work we’ve been doing and sent their love to everyone in the group. They are aware of the protest at the Achill Head and that has frightened them, especially when it is combined with news around the country about Direct Provision, such as the fire-bombing of Martin Kenny’s car,” said Mr Mac Eachmharcaigh.
“The gifts went down really well but the drawings the children made caused the greatest outpouring of heartfelt emotion,” he continued.
“They’re lovely women, warm and friendly. Their situation is already distressing, and they deserve better. Achill people in Dublin are now organising to supply them with more practical donations, so we will be keeping in touch,” added Mr Mac Eachmharcaigh.  
Achill Says Welcome also organised a talk in Keel Hall on Sunday last where South African native Bulelani Mfaco spoke of his experiences of Direct Provision and what needs to change.
Mr Mfaco is a member of MASI, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland.