Former Temple Spa now home to 71 asylum seekers
Four and a half months after it opened, an asylum seeker centre in rural Westmeath has reached capacity and now houses 71 residents from 16 different countries.
The former Temple Lodge and Spa, located between Moate and Horseleap, underwent a dramatic change of use in April of this year.
What had been a destination for relaxing spa treatments or short getaways became a home to adults and children from distant corners of the globe.
The residents of what is now Temple Accommodation Centre are provided with food and accommodation in the direct provision system while they wait to find out whether or not they will be allowed to legally remain in the country.
A mixture of single males, single females, and families live in the centre. Twelve children are among those who now call it home, and they are being educated locally.
Buses are provided to bring the residents to Athlone on Fridays and Sundays, and there is a twice-daily service to Moate on the other days of the week.
The Westmeath Independent visited the centre on Thursday morning last after making arrangements with the Department of Justice press office and the centre's management.
The residents had been notified of our visit in advance, and three agreed to be interviewed for the paper. They spoke highly of the staff at the centre.
"From the manager to the staff, the chef, the security, they are all fantastic," said Mohamed Lamine Camara, from Guyana.
"They treat us well. No matter your problem, they always listen. They make us feel at home. It’s more than my expectation."
Eka Abesadze (pictured above) is from Georgia and came to Ireland last year with her daughter who now three years old.
She said life had been "difficult" in her home country but she didn't want to go into specifics about her reasons for leaving and coming to Ireland.
"In general, life (in Georgia) is not as it should be. Everybody has different problems and mine is different and I don’t want to talk about it," she said.
Eka is from Georgia's capital city so she found the quiet countryside of the Irish Midlands difficult to get used to at first.
"My first impression (of Temple Accommodation Centre) was that it was far away from town. But then I realised that, with a small daughter, it is the best place for me now."
However a resident from a North African country, who asked not to be identified, said there was not enough happening at the centre to keep him and other residents occupied.
"People are just sleeping all the time. There is nothing to do. They wake up just to eat, and then they go back to sleep. It’s depressing. It’s not normal," he said.
* To read our three-page special feature on Temple Accommodation Centre, pick up a copy of this week's Westmeath Independent. An electronic edition can also be purchased through the ePaper link above.