17 August 2019 No Comments by The Northern Standard

There seems to be a praiseworthy intensification of activities across Co Monaghan aimed at celebrating the increasing diversity of our population and breaking down barriers of mutual distrust and misunderstanding that can impede the process of integration and sometimes provoke community disharmony.

The Irish network for migrant women, AkiDwA, recently held a gathering in Monaghan Town umbrellaed by the theme “Embrace Our Diversity”. This Saturday, the county capital is again the host for an interesting social inclusion initiative – a Summer Solidarity Dinner involving the people of the St Patrick’s Accommodation Centre Direct Provision facility which has a distinctly convivial as well as a serious purpose nicely encapsulated in the promotional literature in the phrase “sharing with neighbours”.

Gaining traction and attention in our community also is the Cultural Champions pilot project, through which various representatives of our different new communities receive the training and assistance required to be advocates and bridge- builders between their peoples and the agencies of the State. And the Fáilte Isteach initiative, which offers free English language tuition to people from migrant communities, is now firmly established right across Co Monaghan.

Our county has become initially a place of refuge and in the future hopefully a place of stability and opportunity for those displaced by violent political upheaval in Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We aspire to be a county – and country – of sanctuary, and are progressing steadily towards the realisation of this goal, along the way reciprocating in some measure the historic and contemporary debts of gratitude to those in other lands who held out a welcoming hand to our own diaspora.

Although ignorance and prejudice still sometimes flare, there is in general now a broad recognition of the enrichment that has derived from the growth of the migrant population in Ireland, which has reached around 20%. Not only our economy but our culture has benefited from this infusion.

We are not doing so badly, it seems. But…as we progress along the integration pathway, a deep shame remains to be addressed. We continue to operate in this country under the banner of Direct Provision a systemically inefficient, unjust and cruel system of treating those who come to our shores seeking hospitality, dignity and opportunity.

Some of the findings recently made public by the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland following a tour of the country’s emergency accommodation facilities for migrants were deeply disturbing. The inadequate provision of basic human requirements such as food and shelter is just one element of the deficiencies uncovered – and in some ways not the worst or the hardest to excuse as one can, with perhaps a stretch of tolerance and understanding, accept that inadequate or poorly distributed resources are the cause of some migrant families having to share cramped conditions or eat food of low nutritional standard that in many cases does not conform to their cultural dietary obligations or proscriptions. And similar problems are no doubt surfacing in the purpose-built or provided accommodation centres.

This is the sort of thing that should not occur in care settings, and were vulnerable Irish children or elderly people in care found to be so poorly housed or fed, the media exposé and consequent tsunami of public outrage would very quickly see the problem addressed. Now that comparable deficiencies to those exampled above have been brought to light by a reputable NGO looking out for the interests of vulnerable asylum seekers in this country’s care, surely the appropriate remedies will be delivered extremely quickly, at the insistence of an angry general population?

The answer should be yes. The fact that it is not necessarily so is the real scandal and shame of our Direct Provision system.
We cannot claim to be a welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers if we cannot provide the basic human needs to the people we admit to the country in these contexts. It would be far better for those people and for ourselves if we did not let them enter the country in the first place, rather than let them in under the false pretences that we care about their welfare and safety and sense of self-worth and are serious about helping them stabilise their lives and build a future for themselves.

It is an affront to the principles of compassion and justice to take people who have come through traumatising experiences that have driven them from their homelands and proceed to warehouse them in prison-like settings, or shoehorn them into emergency hotel or bed and breakfast accommodation, deny them the dignity of an income and the access to the dignity of labour, and insult their language, culture and religious beliefs by ignoring or denigrating these signifying characteristics of their personal identity.

If Ireland is serious about being an integrated society and a haven for the displaced of other lands and cultures, if we really want to champion sanctuary and integration, we have to start by getting rid of the Direct Provision system.

The care of vulnerable migrant people should no longer be farmed out – or sold off – to private contractors. We have enough civil servants, State agencies and mechanisms of care provision to deliver a service to asylum seekers that expedites the process of determining citizenship or sanctuary applications, ensures they have a safe place to live while their applications are being determined, that they enjoy basic freedoms of movement and association during this period, and that their language, their faith and their culture is respected and accommodated in this country for however long or short their sojourn with us might be.

Somewhere along the line we seem to have lost the plot when it comes to asylum and sanctuary. Our aspirations are lofty and noble, but our actions as a State are too often offhand, inadequate, begrudging and impatient. While we are making some progress, some of our approaches, in particular the Direct Provision fiasco, are holding us back. Our legislators and administrators could learn a lot from our local communities – before we dare to legislate and administrate for migrants and asylum seekers, would it kill us to be good neighbours first?

Our national policies need to get back on track, and can do so from local example. A potentially good place to start is offered by events such as the Summer Solidarity Dinner taking place in Monaghan Town on Saturday. It is a chance to meet those experiencing Direct Provision on our own doorstep, introduce ourselves to them, and ask: “What can we do for you?”

Hopefully some politicians and care administrators will be among a good number of our local indigenous population who decide to accept the kind invitation of the event organisers to come along and start this conversation.

Comments are closed.