Wednesday’s evening lecture marked the third day in this year’s ‘Empowerment Week.’ This is an initiative run by the Students Union in an effort to encourage individuals to take action on issues they feel passionately about. This event was focused on ethnic minorities, their representation in leadership roles, and the realities of living as a migrant in Ireland. Despite a delay of the guest speaker due to previous engagements, and the attendance of a meer four people, the proceedings of the evening were impassioned and the content discussed was long overdue.
Navika Mehta, the SU Ethnic Minorities Officer, hosted the panel with guest speaker Lucky Khamboule, a representative of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI). The organisation campaigns for the rights of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, this topic dominated much of the conversation for the evening. Previously an asylum seeker himself, Khamboule had a lot to say on the subject and brought forward a compelling account of the circumstances in which one lives while seeking direct provision within the state. Work and education are key issues of concern for ethnic minorities, especially asylum seekers. Even though these people are refugees seeking protection in Ireland, Khamboule explains, they are separated from Irish society and placed within closed communities where they must wait on average three years before receiving the ability to work and seek education.
The isolation experienced by those in direct provision was emphasised greatly by the MASI speaker. There are approximately twenty five centres nationally and in the majority of cases, they are based rurally and in areas where there is no other housing or community. This impacts greatly on the individuals as it makes coming out of that insulated environment very difficult. Khamboule made this point to show that by separating migrants from the rest of society, integration is hard to achieve. Without this, minorities are unable to engage in political and social reform as they don’t feel they have a place within the social order.
Mehta contributed greatly to the discussion through the issue of education for minorities. She explained how lack of representation of ethnic minorities in positions of power has a detrimental effect on the progression and address of issues related to these groups. In particular, education can be a huge obstacle for ethnic minorities and migrants, especially at third level and in Trinity itself.
From a social side, it was said that many students of an ethnic background were sometimes hesitant to join larger societies outside of cultural ones. This can be due to little diversity among members and indeed those in chairing roles. By involving more ethnic minorities in student society, Mehta believes not just students of an ethnic background will benefit but the entire student and college body. Although there has been movement made by students in the form of ‘Aramark off our campus’, a campaign to remove Aramark services from Trinity as they also provide food to direct provision centres, there are still major issues to be dealt with.
One problem brought up by the panel were the challenges put up against international students attending Trinity. Mehta revealed that non-EU students are not offered medical repeats and that many students have been affected by this in the form of financial difficulty. Both Mehta and Khmaboule expressed that on a grander scale, students from abroad that study in Ireland find it difficult to stay and work here after completing their studies. It was found that to maintain a two year visa post-education, the company which employs the individual must pay for this visa. This makes the competition more fierce when it comes to establishing employment as a migrant.
The lecture concluded with Khamboule stating that vocalising real stories of those living in direct provision and other ethnic minorities are the key to change. This the idea behind MASI’s campaign. By publicising the issues and struggles of minorities, change may begin to occur and Ireland may begin to progress as a society that understands the importance of equality for migrants and minorities. It’s clear from both the speaker’s contribution and the reception of those present, that the status and conditions of migrants and ethnic minorities living in Ireland are a pressing issue for Irish politics and social reform.