World Refugee Day

Wednesday, 20 June is World Refugee Day.  The theme for 2012 is ‘dilemma’.  The IRC and Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, have collected stories from asylum seekers and refugees at various stages of the process which illustrate the types of dilemma that refugees and their families face:

–     do you send your child to a foreign country on their own in order to keep them safe?;

–     how do you explain to your children that they have no choice but to live in a hostel?;

–     do you complain if the food is bad or other residents are making noise and risk being transferred to a more remote centre where your children will have to start in a new school and make new friends?;

–     do you stay in safety in Ireland knowing that your family is at risk in your country of origin?;

–     how do you convince the authorities that you are a minor when you have no identity papers and no family or friends with you?

–     once you have been granted refugee status and can make an application for family reunification, do you wait the extended period necessary to process this application and bring family members to safety or do you give up everything and risk your life by returning to reunite with them?

We will be posting a different story each day this week. Each story is in the individual’s own words and gives their personal experiences of being an asylum seeker or refugee.

 

Homesick’

A SEPARATED CHILD IN IRELAND: JOHN’S STORY

 

Background and introduction:

“John”[1] grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia. He arrived in Ireland alone at the age of 16 as a separated child. He was placed with a foster family in Cork but found it difficult to integrate with another family when all he could think about was his own mother and brother who he had been forced to leave behind in Somalia. He was granted refugee status in 2010 and last year applied for permission for his mother and brother to join him in Ireland. Although refugees have a right to apply for “family reunification”, the process can be long and arduous – often taking two years or more. In the interim, refugees and their families face extended periods of desperate worry and insecurity, never knowing if they will be able to bring their loved ones to safety in time. This is John’s story:

John’s Story

“I had a horrible life in Mogadishu. In Somalia, we don’t have a strong government to look after people. My family is from the Hamari group, which is small and often attacked by other groups. We had trouble with militias. In 1995, my father was shopping with my sister and they were both shot and killed by the militia. My brother was also shot by the militia when he was 20.

After my father died, everything was even harder. We didn’t have money for food. Nobody would help us. My mother was cleaning floors and houses to try to help my sister and brother and I survive. In 2005, we had problems with al-Shabaab [a violent Somali militia group]. One day, members of al-Shabaab came to my house with masks on and took me away with them. They told me that I had to join them and if I didn’t, they would shoot me. I was 15 years old and very afraid. Soon after, I was injured. I managed to escape and went back home to my mother. She told me: “You can’t stay. If you stay, you’ll be killed.”

My aunt in Canada sent money to help me and my brother escape. He went to South Africa and I travelled to Ethiopia. Some friends of my family there introduced me to someone they said would help to get me to safety. I was given a passport ad left Ethiopia. I arrived in Dublin late at night. It was a big change for me. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what to do. I was on the street and saw a man who I thought might be Ethiopian so I asked him for help. It turned out that he was Somali. He took me to the Garda station. I was 16 and a half. This is how I came to Ireland.

First I lived in a hostel and then they sent me to live with a foster family. It was difficult staying with a foster family because I was so worried about my own family. They thought I didn’t want to talk but it was because I was so worried. I didn’t know where my family was living. I couldn’t sleep. I thought maybe my family was dead. So I went to school every day and tried to work but my mind was my memory. There was no room for anything else. I didn’t know how to contact them to find out if they were safe.

Finally, with help from an international Somali radio station, I was able to get in touch with them. They found my mother, brother and sister. Now, at last, I can contact them.  I call, I call, I call. I call every two days to my family. My brother is in South Africa. He is a refugee there but it is too dangerous. He told me he is afraid to walk outside. I am worried about him.

I am living happy now, living by myself but sometimes I have sleep problems. I am still worried about my family. My stomach was hurting and my doctor asked if I was worried about exams and I told him yes but it was really about my family. I am going to see my mum this June. I will meet her in Ethiopia. I have been saving half my money every week to pay for my ticket and her ticket to go there from Mogadishu. I am also worried about my mum’s health. She is very, very sick. I hope I can take her to see a doctor when I meet her in Ethiopia but I don’t know how I will find the money to pay for it.

My favourite things about Ireland are the food, the people and the love of sports. It is very good here. People are lovely. People in Ireland have very good lives. They are lucky. In Somalia we can’t watch TV. Here, if you want to watch the hurling, you don’t have to pay – you can just turn on the TV. My teachers are lovely, I have lots of friends. My school is the best. When I came here, I just learned everything. I’m watching all the time RTE2, watching people cooking. I cook every day my own food. I know how to cook doner kebab. My friends and I like cooking together. In Somalia, we only got two things to eat: rice and pasta, pasta and rice. We don’t have pizza, I just learned about it here and we don’t have takeaway, I learned about that here as well.

My dream for the future is to work in business or engineering. I only have one more year in school then I have to go to college. I learned to read and write after coming to Ireland because I couldn’t go to school in Somalia. We don’t have free school there so if you can’t pay you can’t go.

Now I am still waiting for the answer for family reunification with my mum and brother. I started the application in 2011 and they tell me it will take two years. They say to me I need DNA tests for them. They are waiting to come to Ireland, then we will be able to enjoy life together. I will be happy then and finally get some rest, then I can study. I will be happy to get some rest. Now I am just missing my Mum. She loves her family. Now, when she gets sick, nobody knows. She wants to be with her family so we can support each other. I wish it could happen faster because I am losing my energy, you know. My hope and my dream is that actually we will be together: me, my brother and my mum.”


[1] Not his real name

 

Adam’s Story

 

Adam is originally from a country in Africa. He has been in Ireland since he was 17. He first arrived in Ireland as a separated child, the term for children who arrive in a country without a parent or guardian. The immigration authorities did not accept that he was only 17 and therefore entitled to the additional care and protection usually afforded to children in his position. As he could not prove his age to their satisfaction, he was classed as an adult and sent to live in an accommodation centre which primarily caters to single males. This is a common problem for older children who arrive without sufficient documentation and are subsequently unable to convince the authorities of their actual age.

Despite the difficulties Adam faced, living in an unfamiliar country, without any family support, staying in an accommodation centre with little privacy and only a meagre weekly allowance of €19.10, he was determined to work hard and improve his life. He enrolled in school as soon as he could and his perseverance and determination have led to his teachers describing him as a role model for other students in the school. Adam’s application for refugee status was unsuccessful and his future is now highly uncertain as he waits to find out whether he will be granted permission to stay in Ireland on any other grounds. This is his story:

“My name is Adam. I am sitting my Leaving Certificate at the moment (Biology, Design Communication Graphics, Construction and Art) and I hope to study either Nursing or Biological Engineering after I finish.

“Not knowing what will happen, that is difficult.”

Although living in the accommodation centre has its challenges – we don’t have much privacy and it can be noisy and difficult to study so I go to the library – I really enjoy living in Ireland. Before, I didn’t have hope that I would be able to go to school again but now after studying and having the chance to do my Leaving Certificate, it is hard not knowing if I will be able to continue with what I want to do.

It is difficult being so far away from my family, especially my sisters, but I am able to stay in touch with family and friends at home on the internet sometimes. I have good teachers – school is like a family to me because that is the place I spend all my time.

Not knowing what will happen, that is difficult.”

 

 

 

Raising a family in Direct Provision: Peter’s story

 

Background and Introduction

 

“Peter”[1] and his family have been in Ireland for nine years. Since then, they have lived in one of the residential institutions designated as accommodation for those who come to this country in search of protection. These institutions, called “direct provision” centres, are usually housed in old hotels or guesthouses. While a hotel may seem an appealing place to live, many of these buildings were in a questionable state of repair even at the time of their conversion – ten years later; conditions in many have significantly deteriorated. Residents generally share small rooms with a number of other people. Entire families often share a single room.

Residents of these institutions are not permitted to prepare their own food and must eat at designated times in a communal canteen. Again, while it may sound appealing to have one’s food prepared, the reality is that the quality of food provided is often low, with many residents concerned that their basic nutritional needs are not being met.

If residents wish to make a complaint about any aspect of life in “direct provision”, no independent complaints procedure is available to them. Instead, complaints are to be addressed to the manager of the centre. Many residents are reluctant to make an official complaint for fear of either further damaging relations with the centre management or of prejudicing their application for refugee status.

Protection applicants in Ireland are not permitted to work, regardless of their qualifications or desire to be self-sufficient, nor are they entitled to any kind of social benefit payment, including child benefit. Instead, they are given a weekly allowance of 19.10 per adult and 9.60 per week per child. This allowance has not changed since its introduction in 2000, and from this, people have to pay for basics such as nappies, toiletries and transportation.

More than 5000 people in Ireland today are living in these institutions, a quarter of them like Peter and his family, for more than five years. This is Peter’s story.

 

Peter’s Story

“First of all I would like to say a big thank you to all in the Nasc organisation for what you do for immigrants and Asylum seekers. It’s nice to know that there are people out there who care about our rights and equality.

My family and I have been living in Direct Provision accommodation since we first got to Ireland. I have three daughters and one son. My daughters were quite young when they arrived in Ireland. My oldest daughter who is 21 was 12 when she arrived in Ireland; she has completed primary and secondary school here and is now looking for a way to go to college to study Nursing. My second eldest daughter who is 19, was 10 when she arrived here, she is now doing her Leaving Certificate examination and is hoping to study Law next year. My youngest daughter who is 15 arrived in Ireland when she was 6 years old; she is sitting her Junior Certificate examination this year. My son was born in Ireland in 2006; he’s five and is in Senior Infants.

It worries me to watch my children growing up so fast, and as well as that, the stress they have had to grow up in breaks my heart. My son doesn’t understand why we have to live in the hostel and he’s always saying he wants to go to his own big house like all his friends. This is really heartbreaking to watch as a parent because it shows how this situation affects kids. Having a deportation order as well is very hard because my daughters miss out on a lot of school work whenever we go to sign on in Dublin[2]. It isn’t fair to do this to children, but I suppose my two eldest daughters are no longer children as their whole childhoods have been taken away from them.

In the Direct Provision accommodation, there are a lot of things that we have to deal with. For instance you are not allowed to invite anyone to come visit you in your room. Why? I don’t know. There’s no crime in having friends over seeing as this can be seen as my house because this is where I live. Children cannot invite their friends to their birthday, communion or confirmation celebrations.

Most of the rooms are damp and they are not insulated well. It usually gets really cold at night especially in the winter and when we ask the manager to turn on the heating they tell us that they are on or they are not working. If you buy heaters yourself, they take them from you.  To me it feels like we are being treated like prisoners. Some of the staff do not communicate well with people in the accommodation, if you stand up for yourself, the manager rings RIA[3] and says that you are bringing problems or you are being aggressive. After a while you get a transfer letter from RIA sending you to live in another area. As a result no one is able to complain because they fear what will happen to them. As well as the rooms being damp and cold, they are small and crowded. You often find a mother, father and two children living in a small, cramped room. You don’t have your own space. Bathrooms and toilets are shared between strangers which is really unhygienic because diseases can spread easily and the bathrooms are not cleaned regularly by the staff. On top of that there’s leakage in rooms from dirty water leaking from the toilets or showers. If the room inspectors come they never ask if we have any problems with the room. They do nothing!

The food is another big problem we have, it’s always the same and they seem to never make enough food for everyone. If you are late for dinner they tell you all of it is finished and won’t make more food for you.

Everyone lives in fear when they are in Direct Provision accommodation especially if they have a deportation order because you never know when they will come for you and take you away without any of your belongings. This is stressful for everyone and could drive you insane.

It is a bad situation to be in and I’m hoping that its people like you who will hear our cry for help and try do something about it. I would like to thank you for this opportunity to tell my story and for taking the time to read it.”


[1] Not his real name

[2] People who have been issued with deportation orders are required to travel to the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) headquarters in Dublin on a regular basis to confirm their continued presence in the state

[3] The  Reception and Integration Agency, a unit of the Department of Justice and Equality charged with providing accommodation and ancillary services to asylum seekers

 

  

 

Useful links:

http://www.unhcr.ie/

http://www.nascireland.org