‘This is my America’: Migrants urge TDs, Senators for support

More than 50 immigrants address Oireachtas on barriers of integration in Ireland

Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights defenders protest outside the Dáil for end to direct provision system. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights defenders protest outside the Dáil for end to direct provision system. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

“This is my America, this is my Australia, this is my Canada”.

Facing a room filled with Ministers, TDs, Senators, immigrants and asylum seekers, Christiana Obaro takes a deep breath before continuing her short speech.

“In times of famine you chose America, Australia and Canada, Even today, you still choose to do so. I love it here as you do Australia, Canada, America. Don’t throw me away.”

Ms Obaro, an asylum seeker living in the Mosney direct provision centre in Co Meath, joined a panel of migrants in Leinster House this week to address members of the Oireachtas on the challenges of integrating into Irish society.

The event was organised by City of Sanctuary which works to create a culture of welcome and safety for refugees, asylum seekers and other immigrants across the Republic of Ireland and the UK.

While all speakers expressed gratitude to the Irish people for offering them asylum and safety, the majority also voiced concern over the barriers which prevent asylum seekers from fully integrating into society.

Ms Obaro described the pain she feels when referred to as illegal, criminal or alien. “We’re just families, women and children, seeking safety, a decent live, food to eat and freedom to live. We wish to contribute to the land where we live, a place that has give us safety and a place to lay our heads.”

Thandi Sibiya, a graduate of the City of Sanctuary politics course, called on the Government to provide more support for young asylum seekers sitting their Leaving Certs to continue onto third level education.

“When we say end direct provision we’re talking about ending the system, not closing the centres. We’re talking about allowing young people who finish their Leaving Cert to access third level education. We’re talking about the right to work, being able to be mothers to our kids, being able to cook for our children when we want at a time when we want. We just need our freedom, that’s the only thing we ask.”

John Roycroft, principal officer of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, warned the Government needed to “change its approach” to immigrants by including the expertise of civil society, the private sector, the NGO sector and local communities to ensure asylum seekers are treated with dignity and respect.

Mr Roycroft added the housing crisis was delaying the arrival of asylum seekers who had been cleared to relocate to Ireland.

“In the past we’ve dealt with relatively small numbers of refugees but now we’re dealing with much larger numbers. We need to learn from the experiences of people who have arrived in Ireland.”

John Ging from the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned on Thursday that without adequate political and financial support from EU states and other developed nations, conflict and famine in places like Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen would continue to force millions abroad seeking asylum in Europe and across the Middle East.

“At the heart of what’s driving the misery, death and killing in so many countries is conflict which is the product of a political failure to solve disputes. We need to continue to raise the profile and awareness among global leaders for mobilising effective political action.”

Mr Ging said there was an increasing lack of respect for human life in conflict zones where aid distribution was being stopped as “a weapon in the conflict”. He added that aid workers seeking to deliver food and medical supplies were putting their lives at risk because of a deterioration in respect for humanitarian assistance.

“They have a view that the aid will be helping people and they want people to surrender and give up. It’s a violation not just of international law but of all things decent and humane.”