‘It will be emotional’: Undocumented migrant has not seen children in 14 years

Group of migrants celebrate ‘massive win’ as their status is set to be regularised

Members of the Justice for the Undocumented campaign outside Government Buildings. Photograph: Alan Betson

Members of the Justice for the Undocumented campaign outside Government Buildings. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Delighted undocumented migrants who gathered at Government Buildings in Dublin on Friday said the new scheme would “change our lives”.

Many spoke of their excitement at being able to return to see family, including their children, knowing they would be able to come back to their lives in Ireland. Others described the relief of knowing they could seek properly paid jobs.

In the almost 14 years Irene Jagoba (46), from the Philippines, has been in Ireland she has not seen her children, now aged 22 and 16.

“This is a massive win for all of us. It will be good to go home and see my family, to be able to come back here to work, and to live a normal life without fear, able to continue to contribute to the Irish community. I have not been back. I have not seen my children. It will be emotional, yes”

She is a carer, and a member of the Justice for the Undocumented (JFU) campaign – a role she took on seven years ago. “The hardest thing was building the community because people are scared, were afraid to join the campaign, but finally it is a victory. The long fight is over.”

Tjanasi Potso (49), from Botswana, arrived in Ireland eight years ago as a student. Soon after the closure of the English-language school she had attended, however, she lost her student visa.

“I couldn’t manage to enrol with a new school. The fees were very high and they demanded all the fees up front. I ended up falling out of my status.

“Now I work as a healthcare assistant, and that is how I have been sustaining myself.” She is chairwoman of the JFU campaign. “This is a big victory for us. A lot of people have been very brave, to come fight for their rights.”

Better jobs

A survey published last year by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland found more than a quarter of undocumented migrants earned less than the minimum wage.

Ms Potso said migrants like her had “worked hard” for a scheme to regularise their status. “What it means is that it is going to open us to labour markets. We will be able to change jobs, find better jobs, stand up for our rights.

“I will have access to a lot of basic rights. It is very difficult being undocumented. Even finding accommodation is a big challenge. It is difficult anyway but it is even more difficult if you don’t have papers, don’t have status. Landlords are looking for your Garda National Immigration Bureau ID, your papers, a lot of things we don’t have.

“I have a son, who is 22. He once visited when my status was still on in 2016, but I have not seen him since. It is very hard, very hard. This means I will be able visit him. I am very excited.”

Albert Bellr (38), from Malawi, has been here six years. He too arrived as a student but lost his legal status when his college closed.

“I do work in warehouse operations. I have a job with good conditions but there are undocumented people there who do not have good jobs, who have gone through a lot.

“It is very tough being undocumented, when you have that feeling that you can get deported at any time. It is like one leg is already outside the country.”

Asked what regularising his status will mean to him, he says: “A lot. I will be able to live safely. I can travel home and see my relatives. I have my sisters and brother and my mother in Malawi. I have not seen them in these six years.

“It is tough not being able to see them, but you know, life is tough in Malawi. Here I can at least make ends meet and I can actually support my family at home.”