Pop-up cafe in Christ Church aims to spread message about direct provision

Organisers of cafe open to public say: ‘Come here, break the bread and get to know people’

Pictured at the launch of  a pop-up cafe in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin are Ray Yeates, Kathleen Warner Yeates and Lucky Khambule. Photograph: Bryan Meade.

Pictured at the launch of a pop-up cafe in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin are Ray Yeates, Kathleen Warner Yeates and Lucky Khambule. Photograph: Bryan Meade.


When asylum seekers first arrive to Ireland, the loneliness can be overwhelming, says Ellie Kisyombe.

She says one of the hardest things people face is the culture shock, and “not even understanding where to start from”. She has been in the system herself, having arrived to Ireland from Malawi more than eight years ago.

She is now the co-founder and director of Our Table, a refugee-led community project that campaigns for ending direct provision in Ireland and promotes justice for asylum seekers and refugees.

Today, it launched its second pop-up cafe in Christ Church Cathedral, having launched another in 2016.

The pop-up cafe is open to the public to walk in and have a cup of tea or coffee, soup and a sandwich.

Jenna Politi, a volunteer from New York, says there is food from all over the world.

“In direct provision people aren’t allowed to make their own food, and so this food will be representative of the food that’s close to people’s hearts. Ellie’s making a lot of things from Western Africa,” she says.

The direct provision system was established in 2000 to house asylum seekers entering the Irish State in search of international protection.

There were 5,096 men, women and children, including 801 families, living in the 34 direct provision centres across 17 counties in Ireland by the end of December 2017.

While initially established to serve as a temporary, six-month stay for asylum seekers, by the end of December 2017 residents were spending an average of 23 months in direct provision.

In many centres, residents do not have cooking facilities and instead are given canteen-style food over a counter.

“Mothers and fathers pass down skills, traditions, tastes and family recipes to their children through cooking. It’s how families bond and gather,” according to Our Table’s website.

“But hundreds of children born into the Direct Provision system have never tasted a meal cooked by their parents.”

Ms Politi says the pop up cafe has proven very popular. “Dublin loves Our Table. People have been really, really supportive of the project…and even those who haven’t have been very curious,” she adds.

Starting next week and for the next six weeks, the pop-up cafe will be set up in Christ Church Cathedral three days a week - Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays - between 10am and 3pm.

Setting up a project of this kind has not been easy, says Ms Kisyombe. “To be where we are is one of the hardest things. It’s not easy even for me myself to run this. There’s been tears, breakdowns and depression but I’ve chosen to keep going,” she said.

She’s found an outlet in cooking. “I love cooking. It just gives me a bit of space. It just makes me feel free,” she says. They make food from South Africa, Central Africa and North Africa. “Moroccan lentil soup sells really well,” she says.

To Ms Kisyombe, this pop-up cafe is more than a cafe, it is a statement. “I’ve been in this system myself, I understand. This is just a statement of how people who are stuck in the system can actually do things that can be meaningful to this society,” she says.

“I want people to know about direct provision, that we are normal human beings who just need a life like everyone else. We don’t want limits on everything.

“We are people who can create companies, work and do so many things to contribute to Irish society. It’s not nice for us to be on social welfare. It creates a kind of norm to a person, where you’re just used to getting handouts. This is not good. This is an issue of dignity,” she says.

She says working on the cafe has been therapeutic. “I feel when I come here that I’m getting therapy, doing work and I look forward to tomorrow. And many people who are here are looking forward to tomorrow, so that’s a good thing.”

Up until recently asylum seekers in Ireland were banned from working. However, earlier this month the Supreme Court formally ruled this ban on the right to work as unconstitutional which means asylum seekers are now legally entitled to apply for jobs in Ireland.

The current job access scheme for asylum seekers, which has been described by the Department of Justice as a “temporary measure” until a full work-permit scheme is drawn up, is highly restrictive and is largely directed towards highly skilled workers. Asylum seekers must pay between €500 to €1,000 for a six- to 12-month employment permit and must also secure a job paying a starting salary of at least €30,000 per annum. Their prospective employer must also show they were unable to find a suitable Irish or EU citizen to fill the position.

Asylum seekers will be unable to apply for a job in more than 60 different areas including positions in hospitality, healthcare, social work, childcare, general care services, marketing, sales, administration, textiles, printing, housekeeping, food and construction.

“The system is really hard, you can’t do a lot of things but what I can also tell people is that Ireland is a very good place. The people of Ireland, even the way the Irish people have responded to my project. It’s amazing, amazing. It’s amazing. And that’s what keeps me going and that’s what makes me live.

Although she does not get paid, she has five employees and 15 registered volunteers. She feels this is providing asylum seekers with a sense of purpose and community.

“There are people who just arrived in the country and they didn’t know anybody, but somebody just said ‘have you ever heard about this cafe for refugees?’ and they are here. So this is what gives me a drive. The love is here.”

“I just want people to know that we need to end direct provision. It’s not good to dehumanise people...There are good people that are stuck in this system and people need to know them. Come here, break the bread and [GET TO]know people.”