Tramore locals make asylum-seekers welcome

 

Intolerance of immigrants seeking a better life is not an exclusively Irish phenomenon. Bongu Floribert, an asylum-seeker living in Tramore, Co Waterford, has observed similar prejudice in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"In every country in the world you will get this opinion about `the foreigner in my land'. In my country it's a reaction against people from Rwanda, Burundi and Angola. There are people with a good attitude and a bad attitude everywhere."

Oddly enough, given the vocal opposition which preceded their arrival, Mr Floribert and other asylum-seekers have yet to encounter a "bad attitude" in Tramore.

"The people from Tramore are so friendly, I believe that this is the best place in Ireland," says Mr Samuel Adefisayo (24) from Nigeria, citing comparisons offered by friends in Galway, Tralee and Killarney.

His friend, Martins Owie (22), from Sierra Leone, is equally enthusiastic. "If I am allowed to stay, I would prefer to live in Tramore than any other part of Ireland."

Behind the satisfaction at the welcome they have received, however, lies deep frustration at the Government's refusal to allow asylum-seekers to work. Most of the 72 staying in Tramore have been in Ireland for less than a month but boredom is already a serious problem.

It's also very difficult to live on £15 a week for adults and £7.50 for each child, after meals and accommodation are provided. "We're not after money, we're after a job. They can keep the £15 if they let us work," says Tina Omoruwa Fagbamila from Nigeria, who is in Tramore with her husband, Olapido, an electronics engineer, and 21/2-year-old daughter, Oluwa.

"That is the major problem right now. We're just sitting here doing nothing and we're still young, you know." A phone call home, said Tatiana Terescenco from Moldova, can cost £10 and wipe out most of her budget. Even buying an ice-cream is not a decision taken lightly.

The asylum-seekers are staying in two guesthouses, the Atlantic House and Ocean View House, owned respectively by Jonathan Moore and his brother, Daniel. The two continue to manage the buildings, but until next May they are exclusively available to the Directorate for Refugee and Asylum Support Services.

The Moores and their staff of 19 are trying hard to facilitate their new guests, who began arriving in late May. Chefs, for example, have been taking instructions in the preparation of ethnic foods.

It's not easy to satisfy all ethnic tastes, however, when your guests are from countries as diverse as Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Kosovo, Russia, Tanzania, Romania, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Congo, Nigeria, Zanzibar, and others. About 15 of the 72 are children.

Equally diverse, Jonathan Moore says, is the range of occupations represented, including restaurant owners, electricians, at least one teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, students and a truck driver.

Locals, he says, have been extremely supportive, donating toys for the children and bicycles for the adults, many of whom cycle to Waterford city, saving a £3 bus fare. A support group has been set up to provide English lessons for adults and activities for children.

The group organised an open day at Ocean View on Saturday which was "a tremendous success", said Mr Moore. About 250 local people turned up to meet the residents of both guesthouses; music and refreshments were provided, the weather held up and children from both communities played together for the afternoon.

The asylum-seekers have been invited to enter a team in a seven-a-side beach soccer competition starting later this month, while a local soccer club has offered the use of its facilities. Tramore Surf Centre has been providing surfing lessons for the children.

Where outside help is not available, they are helping themselves. Mr Floribert has put up posters around the town offering free French lessons, the quid pro quo being that he will improve his English. A science teacher, he has also come to an arrangement with a local secondary school to provide extra lessons in French or science.

Persecution of one form or another was cited by all of the asylum-seekers who spoke to The Irish Times as their reasons for leaving home. Isaac A. Okejimi (27) from Nigeria says his restaurant was burned by Muslim extremists. He paid money to someone who could get him out of the country but says he had no idea prior to departure where he was going.

Like the others, he wants to work. "That's all we ask. Give us an opportunity to contribute to society."