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‘In Ireland I can be the person I was supposed to be. I can be proud of the way I am’

New to the Parish: Rei Campos arrived from Venezuela in 2011

Rei Campos loves his home country of Venezuela. But if he had continued to live there, he says, he would have had to live a lie.

“There was no life for me in Venezuela as a gay man. My life in Venezuela would be pretending to be straight with a family, children. It just wasn’t a life for me. In Ireland, I can be the person I was supposed to be. I can be proud of the way I am,” he says.

Originally from Puerto Piritu, a small fishing town on the northeast coast of Venezuela, Campos moved to Ireland in August 2011.

He had been working as a journalist. Then 26-year-old thought he would move abroad for a number of years to learn English, before returning home. He saved up for three years before he had enough money to relocate.


Originally, he was living in a “fancy single room” in Dundrum, Dublin, but he could only live there for around six weeks before the cost of rent decimated his savings. He then moved into a flat in Dublin city centre, which he shared with five people.

Soon after his arrival, Campos decided Dublin was somewhere he wanted to put down roots. However, he overstayed the visa connected to his English course, becoming an undocumented immigrant.

“There was an option to get one [a student visa] for college, but I couldn’t afford to pay for college. I tried to, I looked for help. I went to solicitors, the migrants’ rights centre. And then I heard that, due to the situation in my country, I could claim asylum. That’s what I did. I claimed asylum. That was my last card to play to stay here,” he says.

“It wasn’t the nicest thing to do. I was lucky enough to avoid direct provision. I did everything for me to avoid direct provision. But it’s still a struggle.”

Now 37, Campos describes his journey to refugee status as “very lucky”.

“My case was processed very quickly. I went for the interview which wasn’t very nice, because they were asking a lot of tough questions you wouldn’t really want to answer. For me, it was a lot about my sexuality. The reason I got refugee status is because of my sexual orientation, that’s the main reason,” he says.

“If I was very masculine, they [people in Venezuela] wouldn’t know I’m gay, so they might not abuse me or attack me, but because I’m a gay man they would make my life difficult.”

The interview with the international protection office, in which an applicant makes their case as to why they believe they should be granted asylum, was “long, about four or five hours”, he says.

“And then you have to wait for the answer. At that stage I was just constantly waiting. I was in a very low mood, I was depressed because that was the only option. I was lucky enough to get everything so quick,” he adds.

Moving to a city like Dublin was a big change, he says, particularly because he is from such a small village.

“It’s different. Moving from Venezuela was my first time taking a plane. When I came here, I thought ‘oh my God, it’s amazing’. The safety. To be able to be out and not worry. As a gay man, that safety is very, very important,” he says.

Venezuela, he says, is “very beautiful”, but its people experience significant challenges.

“It’s very nice. There are white, sandy beaches. But you have to fight for everything in life. It’s difficult,” he says.

“We don’t have all this support that Ireland has, you know from the Government or the charities working to support people. We don’t know anything about that. If you want something you have to fight. It is very influenced by the Catholic Church, like it was here [in Ireland] so many years ago. So it’s very conservative.”

Campos has settled well in Ireland, adding that he has made friends since his arrival.

“I love all the diversity that different people bring into a country. For me, this country is very, very amazing. All the chances and opportunities,” he says.

That diversity was particularly felt during the 2015 marriage equality referendum, which legalised gay marriage. That result, he says, was like a “dream come true. I was over the moon”.

“It was amazing; it was so beautiful. A decision that people made that we need to progress this and give people rights. It was like ‘oh my God’. It was very, very good news. I just thought ‘finally I am home. I am here. I am safe’.”

In some ways, Campos says, Irish and Venezuelans are “very like each other”.

“They are friendly and will talk to someone they don’t really know in the pub and the bar. Or they arrive late to things,” he laughs. “People always offer help. In that way, you feel very welcome and warm.”

But there have been challenges throughout, as well. He struggled with his mental health, experiencing serious bouts of depression.

But in recent times, he joined Acting Out, a performance group comprising members of the LGBTQ+ community in Dublin.

“It is a group of people like me. It’s amazing. I’m someone very low profile and shy, I prefer to be behind the camera, but acting has been very good because it’s a healthy way to address my emotions,” he says.

Despite the initial challenges, he feels much better now. He previously completed an honorary diploma in journalism at Ballyfermot College of Further Education and is now doing a second course, this time in digital marketing and sales at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT).

He is currently working in communications for YMCA, who he says took a chance on him when nobody else would. He is also working on a book, which is a memoir on being a migrant in Ireland.

“It was tough in the beginning, in the first year. But Venezuela, I realised, there wasn’t a life for me. It was about being myself or pretending to be someone else,” he says.

“I think I’m much better here than being back in Venezuela. Dublin, Ireland is home now. I made that decision. I want to stay here. I want my life here.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email or tweet @newtotheparish

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times