Photo credit: Gript

“Our children aren’t safe”: Kinnegad meeting hears asylum concerns

There has been no vetting for asylum seekers placed into Harry’s Hotel in Kinnegad, Co. Westmeath, a community meeting has heard.

According to local Labour Councillor Denis Leonard, the owner of Harry’s Hotel in the town has signed a 12-month-contract with the State for “temporary emergency accommodation.”

As a result, 75 men seeking asylum from North Africa, the Middle East and further afield arrived at the hotel three weeks ago.

Gript spoke to asylum seekers claiming to be from Palestine and Somalia; they told us that there were also individuals from Lebanon, Syria, Nigeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, and elsewhere inside the hotel.

According to asylum seekers themselves, there are no women and children present, and local organisers say there has been no vetting of the individuals arriving, leading to some concern among nearby residents.

Locals expressed particular frustration with the fact that there was no warning given even to the County Council of this development, and the arrival of the men simply happened overnight without consultation.

Speaking about the incident, one local organiser said that the women and children of the town “aren’t safe.”

“If it was 75 Irish men, they still wouldn’t be safe,” she said.

“Because none of the men going in there are vetted. None of them have any documentation…they have one initial interview with the Gardaí, and [the police] see if they can ‘flag’ anything. But I already explained to the guards that I think that’s pointless, because anybody can lie in an interview.”

The speaker expressed concern that “there are some [asylum seekers] who are not going to be here for genuine reasons,” though she said it was important that the local community cooperate with the verified ones to weed out false claimants.

An extra 75 asylum seekers are rumoured to be set to arrive in the town in the near future, which local authorities are in the process of fighting. It’s claimed that the hotel is too cramped already, with three men in each room.

Several asylum seekers interviewed by Gript said they already felt they had “no privacy” due to the cramping, and an extra 75 men being added to the mix would be “hell.”

According to Councillor Leonard, police have already responded to several incidents of “anti-social behaviour.”

“There was a small amount of behaviour which was picked up in the first weekend,” he said.

“It’s been investigated, and all those responsible have been reported and have been dealt with accordingly, the way anyone would be in Kinnegad.”

When asked about rumours of “incidents” regarding local women and children, Councillor Leonard, said that one asylum seeker was arrested and will go to court, while two others have been removed from Harry’s and will be “moved on to other parts of the country.”

It was claimed at the meeting that the hotel had no security initially. While it now has two security guards in the evening and two in the day, plus a sign-in/sign-out system, locals expressed the view that this wasn’t enough, saying two guards couldn’t do much “if a brawl broke out.” Some locals said they had children who worked in Harry’s bar, and they felt these measures were insufficient.

One asylum seeker told Gript that the security seemed haphazard, like there was “no protocol.”

There was also no integration officer or Jesuit interpreters on the migrants’ arrival, though this will reportedly be made available soon.

Locals also expressed frustration with the hotel owner, who wasn’t named, believing that the business had allegedly taken the contract for financial gain with little regard for the impact on the community. They also expressed the view that it should no longer be referred to as a hotel, and should instead be called a Direct Provision Centre.

Additionally, there was concern regarding what impact a booked-out hotel would have on the annual Fleadh Cheoil in Mullingar, with people’s relatives being unable to stay anywhere overnight for the event.

However, Councillor Leonard said that much of the social media debate centred around “national issues” which “we don’t want to get involved in,” saying that immigration more broadly was a matter to be discussed in Dáil Éireann.

“We want to keep this about Kinnegad and how we’re dealing with our current situation,” he said.

“We are incensed that Kinnegad is being labelled “racist,” when we are in fact dealing with an impossible situation with no warning. We want what’s right with the town, and we want what’s right for the people being moved into Harry’s as well.”

He also urged locals to report any crimes or suspicious activity they witnessed to the Gardaí.

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