Olufemi Johnson, a 43-year-old asylum seeker from Nigeria, collapsed and died at the Eglinton Hotel Galway, on the morning of May 13th 2010. The Eglinton has been used as a hostel for asylum seekers in recent times.
Ms Johnson suffered from epilepsy and a friend living at the hostel claims she had asked to be moved from her bedroom, which she shared with three other people, because it was small and had too many sharp objects in it.
In an interview with The Irish Times, the woman said she believed the stress of living in overcrowded conditions at the 235-bed hotel had contributed to the death of her twin boys. The woman claims she was forced to live in a small room with her daughter, another mother and her 1½-year-old son.
“She complained she needed more room and had asked to move from the hostel. On a previous occasion she hit her head when she fell during a fit. She shared a room with three others and there were sharp objects that could hurt her if she fell during a fit such as the side of a bed,” says Funmi, a mother of three from Sierra Leone and best friend to Olufemi.
The Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu, who presided over the funeral for Johnson, said more should have been done by management to ensure her wellbeing and questioned whether it was responsible to place her in a four-bed room.
“It is a very unnatural situation to place people of different backgrounds in a situation with no privacy. It causes stress and to live like this for years is not right,” says Dr Yambasu, who had to go through her phone address book to try and find a number of a relative to call to announce her death.
“Irish people are very generous when it comes to giving aid to Africa but unfortunately when Africans come here through the asylum system they don’t want to know,” says Dr Yambasu. “The system needs to change,” he said.
Rosanna Flynn of NGO Residents Against Racism said she had received numerous reports of overcrowding, bad food and dirty conditions at the Eglinton.
“I am very concerned because this is not the first death at this hostel and I feel it should be investigated properly,” said Ms Flynn.
Ms Flynn said it was impossible to know exactly what was happening at the hostels because of a culture of secrecy that prevails across the direct provision system.
“We are not allowed in to see what happens in hostels and so cannot verify what management says about conditions,” she said.