This week a Conference organised by SOLAS, a partnership of SVP’s Croí na Gaillimhe resource centre and Mayo Intercultural Action heard from three asylum-seekers who, between them, have spent the equivalent of 18 years in direct provision. The room admired the man who spoke about his depression but also his resilience, his resignation and his hope. The room respected the man who spoke about his idleness but also about his ability, his poverty, his desire to work. But the room wept with the mother who cried about raising a child in a room of strangers. A 2 year old who tasted freedom at a friend’s home this Christmas only to return to four walls. A mother who has money for nappies but not for wipes. All three spoke of their sadness, but there was no happiness.
People who work with asylum-seekers trapped in direct provision know them in person and as people. They know their ambitions, their desires for themselves, for their children, for a life in Ireland. Sadly too they know their frustration, resignation, sadness, homesickness, depression and isolation. Too many people either do not know this reality in our midst, remain unaware, or maybe afraid of this reality. The reality is that due to the inability of the State to process asylum applications about 4300 people, 1400 of whom are children, are languishing in this institutional limbo, most for over four years.
The system of direct provision arose out of a large increase in the numbers of people seeking asylum and the lack of capacity to house them. However, once in place, direct provision, and the management of direct provision, did little to recognise the humanity of those people living in it. In fact, it and its ancillary rules, became part of the suite of measures of the State to dissuade people to seek asylum in Ireland.
As one side of the State’s apparatus worked to prevent more people coming to Ireland the other part of the equation, the asylum application and decision making processes for those in it, groaned and creaked through its work. The legal dimension of the asylum process has left people without decision, without hope and without a future to speak of. While the legal lingo promised decisions and information ‘shortly’ and ‘in due course’, twenty-somethings became thirty and children were born, weaned, trained and educated.
But that’s a story of processes, policies and politics. The real story is that people are now, presently, as we speak, as we eat, as we read, trapped in direct provision. Perhaps our ears will prick up when we say that around a third of those trapped are children. Trapped children, born in Ireland, who know no better than sharing a room with strangers, whose living quarters are a room, who have never seen their mother or father prepare a meal. Who do not know life out of institutional living. That’s something Irish society should know a thing or two about. These people came to Ireland seeking asylum but have fallen into the architecture of asylum. The old fashioned kind.
We need to find the building blocks that create a proper asylum process, both legal and social. We need to find the right mechanism to ensure future asylum-seekers have fast and fair decisions. But right now, we must find the humanity to recognise that the men, women, mothers, fathers, boys, girls who reside in direct provision should no longer need to wait for legal niceties, be subjected to misplaced fears nor be the human shield against others who may want to come here. We literally need to free people from direct provision. It must be planned, managed, responsible, supportive and supported. It’s not a big step. Through our humanity we have the opportunity, no, the obligation, to restore these individuals their humanity. Let’s say ‘yes’ to ending direct provision.