The catering company that runs the Main Restaurant in UCD it can be revealed also provides catering services to several Direct Provision asylum centres across Ireland. Aramark Catering Ltd is a US company that has branches in 22 countries; the Irish branch owns Campbell Catering Ltd. Campbell Catering operates in the Main Restaurant in the Gerard Manley Hopkins building, above the Global Lounge.

Campbell’s secured the tenure to cater for UCD in 2013 under the premise of creating an International Food Court; including varieties of food outlets from different cultural corners of the earth. The plans included significant investment into the buildings catering facilities to install brands such as Bewleys coffee; which has yet to be seen, and Subway; which opened this year. The Main Restaurant on the top floor of the Manley-Hopkins building is one of the largest food outlets on the UCD campus.

Direct Provision centres are used to house asylum-seekers in Ireland as their requests to be granted refugee status in Ireland are processed. However the system has come under increased criticism in recent years as the process of dealing with applicants and granting people official refugee status has slowed to a halt. The result is many people and families are left indefinitely living in the Direct Provision centres for years on end. The Tribune spoke to Ellie Kisyombe, who lives in Direct Provision and is campaigning for an end to the current system.

“My name is Ellie Kisyombe, I’m in my mid thirties, I am a mother of a boy and a girl. I have lived in Ireland for the past six and a half years, and I’ve lived in Direct Provision. I’m a campaigner for the end to Direct Provision, I started campaigning after living in Direct Provision for a few years and I was trying to find a coping mechanism, so it was then I decided I had to do something about it. I just felt that there was something that needed to be done.”

The salience of the recent refugee crisis and the on-going issue of asylum-seekers in Ireland has moved out of the media spotlight. The general election campaign failed to ignite any real political discussion on the future government’s policy on the issue. Ellie spoke of being incredibly disheartened by the empty political talk that she has heard when trying to bring about attention and action on the problems of Direct Provision. “If you look at the manifestos of these parties on asylum seekers, on refugees – there is nothing, nothing at all. It makes me feel angry, it’s depressing. They talk about it as an issue that should be done, it’s really frustrating.”

Describing life in a Direct Provision centre Ellie liken it to a prison. “It’s kind of like an open prison. In this system you are not allowed to do anything; like work. In this system you just eat and sleep. You have to go and line up for your food, you can’t cook your own food. You have to sleep with other people in dorms. If you’ve got children you have to sleep with them in one room. It’s not healthy, it’s not something that something that people can do for one year, or six years – it’s really bad. It’s not an experience I would love my kids to grow up in. I want this system to end. There has to be a reception centre to process people I accept that. But people then have to move out and integrate into communities, because that’s what is needed. You can’t hide people and then bring them out and expect them to be fine and go into the community. Something is not right.”

In September 2014 asylum-seekers living in one of the Direct Provision centres catered by Aramark staged a hunger strike and refused food, in protest over the poor livings conditions and concerns over the food and hygiene. Residents claimed they were not receiving enough food for children’s lunches or dinners and basic hygiene products were not being provided. The company maintained at the time that these concerns were being addressed and dealt with. Aramark is a private company that won the tenure to cater for three of the state’s Direct Provision centres, and it is estimated receive over €4 million a year from the state to do so. The problem with outsourcing the catering of these state facilities is that standards and quality can be reduced at the discretion of the company in order to save costs and increase their profit.

Speaking on the catering of private companies in Direct Provision centres Ellie said “It’s a moneymaking industry, people are profiting out of it, profiting out of people’s misery, which is really bad. These people in Direct Provision who are coming from backgrounds, which are totally broken, some are coming from warzones, Syria, South Sudan, North Nigeria. They come here and they you put people in this vulnerable state. This is not right. It is not right.”

In 2003 the UCD Student’s Union passed a referendum to ban Coco-Cola products from SU shops on campus after an alleged string of controversies over human rights abuses of company employees in Columbia. The UCD SU overturned the boycott after another referendum in 2010. Since then the debate around the politics of boycotting or divesting from private companies operating in UCD over moral concerns or civil rights issues has been dormant.

The College Tribune submitted a Freedom of Information request on records pertaining to the process of awarding Aramark Ltd, trading as Campbell Catering the tenure for the Main Restaurant in the Gerard Manley Hopkins building. The UCD FOI office stated a decision would be made on this request and would be issued on the 4th of February. To date no decision has been made on the release or availability of these records and the FOI office was unavailable for contact at the time of going to print.

The future of asylum-seekers and those living in Direct Provision has slipped from the public eye. Meanwhile many like Ellie live in indefinite and difficult conditions for years on end. Ellie powerfully concluded, “You people who are in UCD, you are academics. You are the ones who are supposed to start talking about it, and doing something about it. If we leave it to the government, the government will get relaxed and get comfortable. We have to start talking to each other and sharing our experiences, that’s the only way we’ll build a new Ireland.”

  • Jack Power, Politics & Innovation Editor
    This article originally appeared in Volume 29, Issue 9. Published February 29th 2016.