If we are concerned about our society’s future, now is the time to act
Caught between the plight on either side of the Atlantic, the direction Ireland decides to take when it comes to immigration policy needs to be kept in focus
“We cannot polish DP – we have to end it.”
-Lassane Ouedraogo, Africa House.
By now, those of us outside the Irish immigration system are slowly beginning to become aware of its shortcomings. TN has talked to the Irish Refugee Council on what has been accomplished and what remain as barriers for those under Direct Provision (DP). Conditions within Mosney, a DP site in the former holiday resort, have been described first-hand. Awareness, however, is but a minor part in a larger battle.
In January of this year, Joan Burton announced that “the Government is committed to reforming direct provision to ensure a more compassionate system at every stage that treats asylum-seekers with dignity and improves their quality of life while their applications are being processed”. This was as part of the announcement of the additional six euro increase for the allowance given to children DP, raising it to (an admittedly “modest”) €15.60 per week.
Minister Francis Fitzgerald had justified this incremental progress at the time by putting it in the context of the International Protection Bill which aims to streamline the application process for asylum-seekers through the Single Application Procedure (SAP). The Bill, however, which came into effect on November 19 last year, was heavily criticised by NASC (The Irish Immigrant Support Centre), NGOs and “key stakeholders working in the asylum and protection area, and by the Working Group on the Protection Process”.
If Ireland is truly “a land of a thousand welcomes”, Lassane adds, “if you are aware of what is happening behind your backyard,” then mobilisation and active discussion is the only way forward.
In an event held by Trinity’s Global Development Society, members of Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) spoke to students about the areas which the Bill fails to address: the conditions those waiting to be processed find themselves in, the lack of framework or guidance surrounding how best to secure housing and work after DP and the lack of accountability for those in control of DP centres.
MASI was born out of the 2014 protests in DP centres throughout Ireland, in attempt at mobilising asylum seekers to fight for the end of DP and the right to work and education for those in the system. “We cannot polish DP. We have to end it,” were the sentiments of Lassane, a member of Africa Centre, referring to the attempts of reforming the DP system, which have so far proven unsuccessful.
Those who find themselves dealing with the trials of living in DP – cramped quarters, no release date, the inability to cook, work or have a sense of agency and the seemingly endless appeal process – face even more difficulty having their complaints translated into action. As part of the Working Group’s report for the aforementioned Bill, interviews were conducted with asylum seekers within the system in order to ascertain their recommendations. As pointed out by Samuel, a DP resident for six years, the information has been made known to the government – two reports done by the Irish Refugee Council clearly outline the barriers to employment after being in DP and the unsatisfactory state of accommodation for those in DP centres.
“We gave them everything – we gave them all the tools,” Lassane adds. Instead of improved welfare, however, members comment on increased monitoring within the centres.
The difficulties of sharing rooms with those suffering with severe mental health issues are not addressed. Felix, originally from Zimbabwe, was in DP for two-and-a-half years before being granted his papers this May. He describes the lack of assistance following his reporting of an assault carried out by one of his roommates, who attempted to strangle him. “We can’t do anything,” was the reply from staff, who suggested Felix write to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA). There was no outcome for two weeks, with Felix being left with the same roommate in that time. Following this, he was moved from centre to centre, faced with similar issues.
All of these factors, in turn, provide the basis for the group’s main anxiety, which Donnah expresses: “What kind of people [ is DP] shaping them up to be?”
Donnah, a mother of three children aged 6, 8 and 12 respectively, vocalised her concern for the next generation, having the added struggle of integrating within the education system: “[My daughter] has the hide the fact that she is in DP”. Working as a volunteer in a youth service in Limerick, where her centre is based, Donnah described how children within the service will often pool together their resources to send one peer to the cinema, who must “describe the film in extreme detail to friends” in order to keep up appearances with their Irish classmates. Many school-goers will also request to be dropped two bus-stops before their school, in order to conceal the fact they live in DP, for fear of being judged.
Meanwhile, the tensions within centres give rise to increasing levels of anxiety and depression among teenagers and adults alike. Phindile currently lives in Clonakilty Lodge, a centre supposed to be reserved for single mothers and couples with children. Favouritism, racism and conflict are present on a daily basis for her and her son: “[People will say to my child] don’t play with my kids, because you are black and I am white.”
Single males remain a majority of the residents, despite the centre’s purpose. Pair this with racial tensions (with most centres facilitating over 12 different nationalities) and an atmosphere of desperation based on financial and mental health strains, the result is an insecure climate for residents. Phindile states that being approached by a man offering “[to] give you money if you sleep with [him]” is unsettlingly common; this is not just the case within centres. Many women are victims of sex trafficking, with some being ‘sold’ to men by other residents or family-members in an attempt to raise vital funds for children attending school.
Outside facilities for children are limited to a single swing and/or slide set in many centres, Clonakilty Lodge included: “[There is] only one swing which all sixty kids use”, she states. All of these factors, in turn, provide the basis for the group’s main anxiety, which Donnah expresses: “What kind of people [ is DP] shaping them up to be?”
“We don’t want to compare situations,” Lassane explains; they are not disputing there are difficulties elsewhere. All they ask is that we stand together to combat them.
The overall message from MASI, however, was one of proaction. Ellie Kisoymbe, co-founder of the “Our Table” project and volunteer with the Irish Refugee Council, radiates strength as she speaks: “The more we keep crying, the more we tear ourselves […] We are stronger than what they put to us.” They are not across the country speaking to university students for the sake of it, they are reaching out for allies: “The TDs, they don’t care how much we shout – we can’t vote for them. But you can make a change .. if we as a community go to our council[s] to say what is happening is wrong.”
If Ireland is truly “a land of a thousand welcomes”, Lassane adds, “if you are aware of what is happening behind your backyard,” then mobilisation and active discussion is the only way forward. An “End Direct Provision” demonstration march this coming Saturday, November 12, is being organised by United Against Racism. MASI are hopeful that the turnout will be significant. Samuel, who was an organiser of the 2014 protests, described the frustration at the beginning of the campaign surrounding misinformation the Irish people held to be true: asylum seekers being economic migrants, seeking to gain access to social welfare or unwilling to contribute to Irish society. While there are more facts available today, these untruths remain a barrier to engaging with Irish people.
“Try to address it, not only at [a] university level, but at a local level – at a family level,” he stated, highlighting the fact it is among those who have differing opinions – across age demographics, for instance – where discussion can be most effective. “It’s about Ireland as a whole; Ireland as a society,” he adds.
Looking to Europe, a long-time aversion to concretely engage with the migration issue in a systematic manner has culminated not only in an inability to tackle its difficulties – inequality and bias in education and the workforce, variation of integration across socioeconomic groups and a favouring of certain nationalities of migrants (often those closer to the culture of the host country) – but has given impetus to the rhetoric of the far-right; its nationalistic sentiments obscuring the fact many of the issues’ root-causes lie in the gaping holes within surrounding legislation.
If Irish society is to learn from Europe’s mistakes, we must begin to challenge the circularity of our DP system: “People who have gotten their status, often end up staying [in DP], not because of accommodation [shortages], but because they don’t know what to do,” says Felix, who has personally struggled in obtaining deposits for accommodation and travel money from Ennis to Limerick in order to continue his studies. The government has attempted to address their severe lack of direct guidance to DP residents through the creation of a “Guide to Living Independently” pamphlet which has yet to be circulated in centres, despite having gone to print.
Many of the members present highlighted the negative effect of being stuck in the system for years at a time has, not only on self-esteem and mental health, but also on people’s skill-sets. “We have got doctors, we’ve got pharmacists in DP,” Lassane asserts, the former position being particularly in need in Ireland where, due to decreasing salaries and better opportunities abroad, we are struggling to retain our healthcare graduates. “These are skills they are destroying,” Samuel adds, alluding to not only the inability to work, but the negligible chances of furthering education, with the cost of travel for night-classes in English being completely unaffordable to those in rural areas.
MASI is “willing to work with the government, willing to make it” a better system for society at large. Already, the Our Table project is giving visibility to centres and allowing communities to integrate with their local centres. Their securing of a pop-up cafe in Temple Bar’s Project Arts Centre allows “paid employment, training and links to future employment” for those attempting to join the workforce after DP. Lucky Khambula, a prominent member of the campaign, highlights that the Appeals Tribunal, a critical stage for the processing of asylum applications in that it is the primary reason for the long periods people remain in DP. With the arrival of the SAP, heralded by the government to streamline to process, MASI are sceptical – they fear in conjunction with this, the “speed and number of deportations” will increase.
At all times, they implore on people to be cognisant of those benefitting from the system already in place: legal aids who secure benefits from applicants being moved to High Court, lengthening the process even further and private owners of DP centres who are turning over large profits.”If it doesn’t affect you, you look away,” Khambula adds, “You need to move out of your own comfort zone.” The price we will pay for looking away can be seen unfolding before our very eyes, in countries where migration policies have long favoured the needs of the host-country rather than addressing the intricacies of integration that span cultural differences and socioeconomic groups – the outcome of which has led to marginalisation of those that don’t fit the ideal, which many argue is a factor in the rise of radicalisation.
We are part of a generation that has known little outside of this era of increasing connectivity and awareness of a globalised world. We reap the benefits, and yes, some costs of this. We should recognise these are not given equally across society, locally and worldwide. The issues facing those in DP, though stemming from different roots, arise in similar areas of policy currently affecting others who find themselves marginalised in Irish society – accommodation shortages, education access, mental health and addiction problems, lack of rehabilitation and employment schemes – the MASI members are keen to emphasise this: “We don’t want to compare situations,” Lassane explains; they are not disputing there are difficulties elsewhere. All they ask is that we stand together to combat them.
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