Ireland must devise a better, kinder way than direct provision
‘Imagine your child locked in camps with endless rules, depressed and isolated’
A protest outside the Department of Justice against the direct provision system: “Don’t tell me that direct provision and being the only EU country apart from Lithuania that bans asylum seekers from working is the only solution the Irish can come up with to control the immigration of persecuted people from poor countries.” Photograph: Dave Meehan
My husband and I, with our four children, have been living as Nigerian asylum seekers in direct provision for three years and nine months. The fanatical Muslim group Boko Haram forced us to flee from two homes. Finally we had to flee the country.
Throughout trouble and tragedy, my husband always struggled to give me and the children the best in life. He became one of the best IT network technologists in Nigeria. When we were forced to leave, my husband insisted that Ireland would be the best country for us. He said his father had told him that no country so small and far away from Rome had produced so many saints. “They are Catholics and must be good people,” he said. “They have suffered things that have made them emigrate too.”
My husband was prepared to leave his fancy job to find safety for us, to live in a place where we would not be targeted by killers because of our religion, and where our children would not suffer the same violence we suffered when growing up.
But how naive we were, how naive he was.
I remember how happy we were the first day we came to Ireland. We thought that because of our excellent qualifications it would not be more than a week before we found work.
We were told the first day it doesn’t happen that way. You seek asylum. That’s what we did and our nightmare started. We were advised of the dos and don’ts: you cannot work; you cannot drive a car; you cannot do any business to make money; you cannot enter university; you cannot live where you want – they will tell you where to live; you cannot cook your food – they will give you what they want you to eat; you cannot leave your hostel and spend a night elsewhere without permission.
My husband and I looked at each other and asked: how long will this go on? The shocking answer was: nobody knows. If you are extremely lucky, you can get out in a year, but many people have been here for five to 10 years.
I could see the light fade in my husband’s eyes: he could not believe that this was his beloved Ireland – the land of the saints, brave and strong. “At least we are safe now,” he tried to assure me in an unsure voice.
“Oh – you are from Nigeria. You most likely will be deported, or they will keep you here suffering until you decide you cannot stand it any more,” said our fellow-residents. “Don’t they know that Boko Haram have created more than three million refugees internally and externally?” we asked.
Apart from the endless fear of being sent back, I see one other fear that shuts down the light in my husband’s eyes. It is the light of hope, dying to be replaced by shame, the shame of failing to achieve your dream of seeing your children growing up in a place where you can provide for them. The shame of having your children be ashamed of you.
Many react by becoming depressed. I react by writing poems and visiting the GP and the psychiatrist. I am on a daily dose of Zoloft 100mg anti-depressants – like a lot of other people in direct provision centres.
Freedom of choice
Living in Ireland has taught me that work is not just a means to a livelihood, but a means to a life. For I consider life as freedom, not to be mistaken for mere existence. The difference between a slave worker and a factory worker is that the latter has freedom of choice. That is the freedom of choice which is taken away from you when when you are told you cannot work; you cannot make the free choice to earn a living.
Don’t tell me that direct provision and being the only EU country apart from Lithuania that bans asylum seekers from working is the only solution the Irish can come up with to control the immigration of persecuted people from poor countries. Surely you can come up with a better, kinder way.
Imagine your child going to another country only to be locked away in camps with endless rules, depressed and isolated from local communities, not allowed to work, given a bed space in a room to share for years with strangers. You are doing this to men, women and children who have fled countries you have seen on the TV news with all their violence and persecution, hunger and poverty.
I say this to the leaders of Ireland. You are the representatives of the Irish people – you should be the best among us, the most intelligent, the wisest. Don’t defend a bad law when you know that law is never one you would want to live under yourself.