President Higgins gives undocumented migrants a hearing

A Thousand Reasons, One Wish: ‘Don’t look at colour of my skin, look at me as a human being’

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina visit the A Thousand Reasons, One Wish exhibition at Liberty Hall. With the President are, from left, Ivar Rocha Arias (Peru), Jayson Montenegro (Philippines), Edna Tuazon (Philippines), Pria Ramsurn (Mauritius), Irene Jagoba (Philippines) and Alma Imus, (Philippines). Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina visit the A Thousand Reasons, One Wish exhibition at Liberty Hall. With the President are, from left, Ivar Rocha Arias (Peru), Jayson Montenegro (Philippines), Edna Tuazon (Philippines), Pria Ramsurn (Mauritius), Irene Jagoba (Philippines) and Alma Imus, (Philippines). Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Alma Imus waves her children off to school every morning, checks their homework when they come home and says goodnight to them at bedtime, but she has not seen them in person or been able to kiss or hug them in five and a half years.

Like many others in her position, she keeps in contact with her husband and family 11,000km away in the Philippines with the help of Skype and Facebook.

Ms Imus was among a small group of undocumented migrants who met President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at the opening of an art project at the Liberty Hall theatre in Dublin on Thursday.

The A Thousand Reasons, One Wish installation, created by artist Lisamarie Johnson, consists of colourful Japanese origami cranes, each hand-folded by an undocumented migrant.

Regularisation

“According to Japanese legend, anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes is granted one wish. All over Ireland, undocumented people have been folding paper cranes in hope of being granted their one wish: regularisation,” according to campaigners from the Justice for the Undocumented and the Young, Paperless and Powerful lobbies.

Ms Imus, who works as a carer for an elderly man and who also volunteers for a charity, says her son was just two years old when she left home.

Priya Ramsurn from Mauritius came to Ireland along with her husband and two children almost eight years ago to study for a masters degree in IT and business.

“But I failed one subject in my big assignment after four years. So then I couldn’t get back into the system.”

Heart problems

Ms Ramsurn’s elderly mother in Mauritius has diabetes and heart problems and had a couple of operations last year but she cannot visit her.

She says the immigration authorities have told her and her husband to send their children, aged in their late teens, back to Mauritius and that then her husband will be given his papers.

“They came here younger and now they are rooted and settled. Ireland is their home. Mauritius is like a far memory for them,” she says.

“Who would look after them? It would break a family.”

Ms Ramsurn, who works as a cleaner, says she does not want to be undocumented and wants Ireland as her home and wants to be contributing here.

“I want to have the dignity to live here. To live a life as undocumented is not easy every day. You live with fear, stress and every day at any time anything can happen.

“We just want to be respected and have dignity. Don’t look at ... the colour of my skin, just look at me as a human being.”

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality wrote to Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald TD last month asking her to consider a number of proposals in relation to a regularisation programme for undocumented migrants.

The committee has held meetings on both the migrant crisis and the issue of undocumented migrants in Ireland.

Committee chairman David Stanton TD said the committee had been told that the current situation could be addressed through a “once-off, time bound regularisation scheme which would give undocumented migrants an opportunity to regularise their situation”.

Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins held a low-key meeting with a small group of the undocumented migrants on Thursday.

Personal stories

The President asked them questions about their interactions with Oireachtas committees and the Department of Justice and heard their personal stories.

Asked what words the president had for her, Ms Imus said: “He said, ‘You are nearly there’.”