'There were security guards everywhere' - Irish model's story of growing up in a direct provision centre
Life & Style

'There were security guards everywhere' - Irish model's story of growing up in a direct provision centre

"The camp literally looked like a concentration camp when you drove in."

Direct provision is a process, established in 2000, whereby asylum seekers seeking international protection in the Irish state are housed at accommodation centres pending approval of their asylum application.

Overseen by the Department of Justice, direct provision provides essential services, medical care and accommodation and board with three meals a day at set times but due to the privatisation of these centres, the living conditions at centres can differ greatly.

Irena Drézi, a model for Irish agency Not Another Agency has shared her history of living in a direct provision centre after seeking asylum.

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The 22-year-old left the Czech Republic with no spoken English in 2000 with her parents to start a new life in Ireland.

From landing in Dublin Airport, Drézi remembers her family being questioned for hours at the airport before being placed in a refugee centre.

Aged just four at the time, Drézi and her family were left waiting with no confirmation of where they were going to live permanently.

Fortunately, Drézi's father had a high level of English so he got on well with the immigration officers, unlike some families present who couldn’t explain their story without a translator and subsequently deported.

Eventually the Drézis were placed in a direct provision centre in Athlone County Westmeath, where residents in 2018 are allowed €21.60 a week.

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Drézi and her parents drove to Athlone but looking at their new home, she remembers being scared of the surroundings: "The camp literally looked like a concentration camp when you drove in. The fences, the caravans and the dull grey atmosphere."

There were three members of the Drézi family so they received a small caravan to live in.

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Describing the conditions, Drézi said there was a canteen in the area that gave out free food as well as a kitchen in each caravan.

As a child living in the camp, Drézi quickly settled in with the other children from different countries: "There was a park at the top of the camp for kids to play in. Growing up there I spoke no English, yet I became friends with kids of various nationalities, I speak six languages because of this."

As Drézi settled into life in Ireland, she said that she dreaded telling her peers at school about her living conditions: "At school, I was always embarrassed when someone asked me where I lived, there was a bus that brought us to school and back."

One of the most shocking things that stand out from Drézi's story was an evening curfew of approximately 8.30pm that was kept for members of the centre.

As people living in direct provision do not have the right to work, the centre was heavily monitored to ensure that no one left the camp.

"We didn’t have much freedom to go wander, there were security guards everywhere," Drézi added.

Despite the gruelling start she and her family had in Ireland, the Dublin-based model is grateful to the Irish refugee system for the life and her family has now.

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"Yes we were placed in a camp with very little freedom and didn’t have the right to work, but I’m so grateful for everything we got. Ireland is my home," she said.