We pride ourselves on being one of the most hospitable and welcoming nations on the planet, but it seems our reputation far outshines our actions. The reality of the matter is, however, that discrimination and prejudice are still rife in Ireland for asylum seekers, especially our Roma communities.
According to recent reports from the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, Ireland’s treatment of asylum seekers leaves a lot to be desired. In January of last year, for example, Ireland provided the European Commission with our National Roma Integration Strategy. More than twelve months on, very little has been done to encourage the integration of Roma people who live here or indeed to combat discrimination against them. Worryingly, Ireland didn’t consider those directly affected by this strategy important enough to consult with on its creation.
Ireland has also opted not to follow an EU Council directive laying down minimum standards for asylum seekers simply, as Minister for Justice Alan Shatter explained, because this would allow them to have access to the labour market here.
This increases the likelihood of asylum seekers in Ireland ending up in a situation where they are forced to beg on our streets. Their presence on every corner in Dublin often attracts complaints, but we are all too quick to forget that we’re the reason they’re stuck there. Asylum seekers live far below the poverty line in this country and sadly their plight is continually swept beneath the political carpet with an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. Interestingly, revisions to the directive mentioned above were adopted under the current Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU. We could not possibly have been more central in the creation and implementation of this directive on a European level and yet when it came to our own actions, for some unknown reason, we still choose to ignore it.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
As the Irish people hope that asylum seekers will disappear off our streets and into somewhere “appropriate for them”, we must look at the places we deem acceptable for them to stay. How can we possibly consider the housing provisions we have made as genuine “assistance” when on closer examination, the conditions they live in are greatly inferior to the average Irish home?
Without money, refused the right to work and with no general support from the people of Ireland, asylum seekers spend years waiting for their applications to be processed and live in conditions barely preferable to the streets. Cramped bedrooms, overcrowding, no privacy, a lack of basic facilities – this is the living nightmare for many of the asylum seekers in Ireland. What is most chilling about this is not the sympathy we fail to feel for the adults who find themselves in this situation but the children who suffer because of our apathy towards their plight.
The Child Asylum Seeker – A Game of Hide without Seek
It seems that childhood does not extend to those who are seeking asylum. Children are forced to face the realities of adulthood while waiting for a new life in Ireland to accept them, and in doing so they lose out on the stability and comfort of the childhood they deserve. They find it difficult to get into our education system and integration is near impossible given how often they are transferred from hostel to hostel. Making friends is a luxury that many of these children just can’t afford.
Sadly, these children are almost lucky that they have at least their families to support them. The same cannot be said for unaccompanied minors, who escape the terrors of violence and armed conflict alone, only to discover that their safety here has a best-before stamp. Minors, for as long as they are under 18, will be cared for in foster homes. This provision is a step above poorly equipped hostels but once these minors reach adulthood they lose their right to this care and are transferred to the adult asylum-seeking process. Yet again we see just how quickly the Irish nation can turn our back on those who need our help.
If we are ever to reclaim our hospitable nature then we need to begin by taking immediate action to help better the lives of asylum seekers in this country. This doesn’t mean that we need to immediately provide all with sustainable work, I realise this is a tad idealistic. However I do believe we need to drastically improve the conditions we expect asylum seekers to exist in. There is no new life to be found for these people in the hostels they crowd into.
Participation and integration of asylum-seeking children in education and recreational activities should be encouraged by Irish communities, as should tolerance and ultimately acceptance. We are known as a nation that is both welcoming and hospitable to all who set foot on our Irish soil. Surely, even now, we cannot forget the roots that our society is founded upon.