Alishbah Idris has never been outside Ireland. She has never met her grandparents or seen the country where her parents grew up. Alishbah speaks with an Irish accent and goes to an Irish school. Ireland is the only country this nine-year-old has ever known. She was born a month after her parents arrived in Ireland as asylum seekers and has spent her entire life living in a direct provision accommodation centre in Athlone.
Like her younger sister and two brothers, Alishbah is confused about her family’s situation. As she grows older, she asks her parents more questions. Why is her family different from the other kids’ in school? Why do her friends’ parents drive a car when her family must take the bus? Why do she and her siblings have to miss a day of school a month to travel to Dublin and sign a book at the immigration office?
Ahmed Idris is proud of his eldest daughter’s inquisitive and curious mind but finds it increasingly difficult to explain why the family must live in a caravan park.
“I don’t explain properly what’s going on but then sometimes she shouts at me and it’s depressing. She is very sharp and asks lots of questions but I just can’t give her the proper details about what’s happening. She asks ‘when are we going to move to a proper house’ because all her friends have their own room and live in a big house. It makes me so disappointed, I really want to do something for my children.”
Idris arrived in Ireland in January 2007 with his pregnant wife Nazia seeking asylum. The couple were forced to leave their home in the city of Rawalpindi in Pakistan after her family, who are Shia Muslims, rejected Nazia's marriage to Idris because he was a Sunni Muslim. Idris says he and his brothers were attacked and beaten by his wife's family and that the couple had no option but to flee the country. They paid a smuggler in Pakistan who arranged for them to travel to Ireland.
They applied to the Office of the Refugee Commissioner for asylum in 2007 but were refused later that year. Idris appealed the decision to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal but was refused in 2009. He then applied for leave to remain and subsidiary protection in 2009, both of which were refused in 2012.
In 2012, he received a deportation order. The Idris family appealed the order and have spent the past four years waiting for a decision on their case which has been frozen pending the judgment of two test cases. Their hearing has been listed for judgment six times since January 2016 but each time is postponed at the last minute.
Asked to comment on the Idris family’s case, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said: “significant efforts have been placed on dealing with those who are longest in the system and at this stage the vast majority of those who are over five years in the system and who do not have any impediments to progress, such as pending judicial challenges, have now had their cases processed to completion. This has been a key achievement that has had a real impact on many people and families in the protection process, including those in direct provision”.
He added that it could be assumed “that in almost all cases where the judicial review proceedings are not settled at an early stage that the Minister stands over any decision to make a deportation order against any individual”.
When the couple first arrived at the Athlone accommodation centre they only had one child. They now have two sons and two daughters – a family of six living in a cramped two-bedroom prefabricated home parked on a grey tarmac road. Each morning, the children queue up outside the caravan’s tiny bathroom, taking turns to wash and dress for school. They have missed school on a number of occasions in the rush to get everyone washed and dressed in the tiny bathroom before the bus leaves the direct provision centre.
Why my children?
“One time I was so disappointed because we got to the gate and the bus had left without us. My children were asking, ‘how will we get to school now? The bus is gone. You should buy a car.”
“Those moments make me sad. That was a very difficult day for me. I spent the whole day walking around and thinking the whole way, why my children?”
Idris’ four children prefer to speak English with each other and only change to Urdu for their parents. After 10 years living in direct provision, Idris still struggles with English and relies on a translator to tell his story.
Since receiving the deportation order in 2012, the family must travel to Dublin once a month to sign in at the immigration office. This means the children miss one day of school each month.
“In my children’s school they give out an attendance award but if they miss one or two days they won’t get the award. They’re so disappointed about that.
“It’s not easy travelling buses, the kids get very tired. And then we’re waiting four to five hours in the immigration office.”
Idris contacted the immigration services to ask if his family could sign in at the Athlone Garda station to avoid the return trip to Dublin. His request was refused.
Idris struggles to explain to his mother why she has never met her grandchildren and has not seen her son in nearly a decade. “When I talk to her she cries so much. She tells me ‘my life is gone, for the last 10 years I haven’t seen you or met your children. Before I die I want to see you, see your children and put my hands on their heads. Then I can die in peace’.”