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State fails to notify friends and family of burial of asylum seeker

By Ann Marie Foley - 13 June, 2019

“This is yet another example of the many ‘accidental cruelties’ of the direct provision system. Nobody means to do harm and everybody does their job, sort of, but things seem to happen to persons in direct provision that don’t happen to other people because it’s a system without a heart.”

Senator Rónán Mullen

Senator Rónán Mullen has described direct provision as a “system without a heart” following the burial of deceased asylum seeker Sylva Takula without any friends or family present. He called for an inquiry so that such a situation would never arise again.

“In ordinary life, nobody is buried without a ceremony and some kind of notice to the public beforehand, because paying respect to our dead and expressing sympathy to their bereaved is one of the ordinary decencies and necessities of human existence,” said Senator Mullen.

He added that while the Gardaí tried to contact next of kin, there should have been a notice on media such as RIP.ie giving details of the funeral arrangements.

“This is yet another example of the many ‘accidental cruelties’ of the direct provision system. Nobody means to do harm and everybody does their job, sort of, but things seem to happen to persons in direct provision that don’t happen to other people because it’s a system without a heart,” he said.

Sylva Takula, who died in 2018, was buried by the State without ceremony last month, with no notice given to friends and associates.

Rónán Mullen with asylum seekers

Senator Mullen said there should be an investigation to establish how such insensitive treatment occurred despite repeated requests from friends to be kept informed. He also called for an official protocol to ensure that such a thing can never happen again.

The Irish Refugee Council (IRC) extended deepest sympathies to the friends of Sylva Tukula, and also called for an urgent review of how deaths in direct provision are handled by the State to ensure dignity after death, openness and transparency.

“It is vital that there are clear processes in place, a transparent and open investigation of the circumstances, and clear communication channels between the State and friends and residents of Direct Provision centres,” the IRC said in a statement.

“Given the nature of Direct Provision, it is particularly important that there is an open investigation by an independent inspectorate to identify the facts and circumstances surrounding a death and to identify any shortcomings or failings which may have occurred.” It added that this is something that happens routinely where there is a death in custody.

“It is heartbreaking for the friends of Sylva to learn of her burial after it has happened. When responsibility shifts between agencies at State level, irreparable mistakes are made. A clear process must urgently be put in place which has the dignity of the person and the welfare of friends and family as its primary goal.”

The ICI said that it was “despicable” that Sylva Tukula was buried without her friends being notified. ICI added that while it was reported that efforts were made to contact her family and next of kin in South Africa, her human rights and dignity were compromised during her stay at the centre and at death.

While stating that direct provision is not fit for purpose, the ICI called for an inspectorate to be put in place to make sure such incidents do not happen again and that people are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

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