New to the Parish: ‘I didn’t know what undocumented meant’

A 17-year-old undocumented migrant from Mauritius who moved to Dublin eight years ago has to withhold a part of himself even from close friends

Rohan*, an undocumented migrant, poses in front of the mural at the  Migrant Rights Centre in Dublin.  Photograph: Sara Freund

Rohan*, an undocumented migrant, poses in front of the mural at the Migrant Rights Centre in Dublin. Photograph: Sara Freund

 

Rohan* arrived from Mauritius in 2007

Rohan* likes to imagine the day he can be completely honest with his friends for the very first time. For eight years he has been forced to withhold personal details about his life from his school friends in Dublin. Rohan speaks with an Irish accent and considers Dublin his home, but under Irish law he and his family are undocumented migrants.

“I feel I’m betraying them by not telling them the truth because they’re trusting me with all their thoughts,” says the 17-year-old student. “They’re telling me everything but I have to hide this part of myself. I’m afraid if they ever find out they won’t like me any more or will just stop talking to me.”

In 2007 Rohan and his family left their home in Mauritius in search of a better life in Ireland. He remembers growing up in a “diverse, multicultural country” that celebrated all religions and faiths.

“There are different religions there: Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and other communities. I went to a school where we celebrated every religious ritual or cultural celebration.”

Unlike his older brother and parents, Rohan didn’t speak any English when he arrived in Dublin and began fourth class at a local primary school.

“I went in with an open mind. I was the only Indian kid in the group. In the schoolyard I was the only brown-skinned kid. It was easy because nobody treated me differently. They were so welcoming and wouldn’t leave me alone because they didn’t want me to feel lonely.”

From the very first day, Rohan’s parents made it clear he should never speak to anyone about how and why the family came to Ireland.

“I felt confused because I didn’t really know what undocumented meant back then. The fear of telling someone really made me scared. My parents would tell me every day not to tell anyone about the situation, even my close friends.”

A route into the system

Rohan is one of the estimated 20,000-26,000 undocumented migrants living and working in Ireland today. Of these, 2,000-5,000 are children and young people under 18.

A Red C poll carried out in June found that 69 per cent of Irish people are in favour of giving undocumented migrants a route into the system. Despite this call of support for the undocumented community, Rohan felt very nervous when a friend suggested he join a campaign run by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland for young people who want to regularise their status.

“I thought it would be huge risk and if the GNIB [Garda National Immigration Bureau] caught us we would get into trouble.”

However, through the campaign Rohan met other young people like himself who are living a precarious existence in a country they consider home.

“At first I thought I was the only person, but you get to know there’s other people in similar situations. I felt isolated, but then I met other international students and it became easier. I got a lot of support from them.”

Rohan, who would love to study photography after school, begins fifth year in September. However, unlike his peers who will begin trawling through college options and third-level opportunities over the next two years, Rohan is unable to apply for university due to his undocumented status. When he completes his Leaving Cert he will enter a legal limbo, blocking him from any attempts to get a job or continue his studies.

“It’s so frustrating because you work so hard on your Leaving Cert, you work hard in every day of school life. I have to wait for the papers, but if I don’t get them I’ll probably look for some courses or just learn [photography] on my own.”

Like the undocumented Irish living in the US, Rohan and his family are unable to visit family in their country of origin. Living so far from loved ones has been very difficult, Rohan says.

“About two years ago I lost my grandmother, and we couldn’t go back for the funeral, so that was hard. It’s difficult because you have to leave your family behind and focus on yourself here. It’s two different worlds.”

Ireland has given Rohan and his brother a “second chance” at building a better life.

“I do miss my family but I also want to stay here because my future is here and I feel like this is where I belong.”

* Name has been changed to protect his identity

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