Students in direct provision working hard for college place

For asylum seekers in direct provision exam stress is simply another layer of pressure


The Leaving Certificate exams are almost finished. It’s a difficult time for any student, but for asylum seekers living in direct provision there is another layer of stress. For two Galway students, the exams have been a particularly arduous time.

Victoria Chihumura (17) arrived in Ireland from Zimbabwe five years ago. Since then she has been living in the Eglinton House direct provision centre in Salthill, sharing a room with her mother, her step father and two younger brothers.

Studying for the exams was difficult. “I would sometimes wait until everyone had gone to bed and go until it was nearly the morning.”

Her three strongest subjects were biology, business studies and home economics social and scientific, but overall everything went well. She thinks now the build-up to the exams was the worst part.

“I was so nervous the first day, then I started reading English paper 1 and I realised this just isn’t so bad.”

Chihumura says she is the only girl in her year who lives in a direct provision centre but hasn’t discussed it much in school, where she is head girl.

People talking

Little has been said to her either in the centre. Most people, she says “stay in their rooms”.

Money is a very weighted issue for her family. Adult asylum seekers in the State are given €19.10 per week with an extra €9.60 per child. They are not allowed to work.

Chihumura is “sure” she can get enough points to study arts in NUI Galway but is aware she is unlikely to be able to do so.

At present most direct provision residents are unable to avail of third-level education as they are charged the same fees as international students.

It costs roughly €12,750 a year for international students in NUI Galway, in addition to registration fees.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald established a working group last year to oversee reforms of the direct provision system, which has been heavily criticised at home and abroad. The conclusions of the working group are due soon, according to Government sources.

There was controversy last year after The Irish Times reported thata number of direct provision studentshad been awarded scholarships for third level study but had been moved to locations too far away to attend college.

Five years

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said she was “determined” asylum seeking students

However Chihumura’s mother Blessing does not believe these changes will come in time for her daughter. “They keep saying things but nothing happens,” she says.

Chihumura says the majority of her classmates will be heading for NUIG. “I don’t say anything when they talk about it.”

Issues of money and work also drove another Eglinton House resident Primrose Dube (29) to study for the Leaving Certificate. She has been living in the Salthill centre for nine years with her two daughters. She arrived after her husband was arrested in Zimbabwe for his opposition to the Mugabe regime.

The intervening years have been very difficult. Initially she shared a room with another single mother and her child. It took five years to get a room of her own. She too struggles to live on €19.10 a week and can’t see how to improve her circumstances because of the ban on work.

She has found other residents in the direct provision centre and her teachers to be supportive. Studying was tough with her children and she often had to wait for them to fall asleep before starting.

Dube is eager to keep studying. “I would like to keep learning and I’d like my children to see me learning.”