Témoignages - 14 October 2015

en - Migration in Ireland

17 years ago I landed in Ireland from the DR Congo as a stranger, struggling to find a new way of living as an adult, not knowing the language, the culture, the people, and above all feeling rejected and marginalised with hostile attitudes just because I looked different. My experience prompted me to challenge this situation that was very dehumanising and be able to support other migrants in a much vulnerable condition.
With a long history of emigration, Ireland only became a country of immigration from the Celtic Tiger period in the 1990s and so had few systems in place to welcome ‘the stranger’ Thousands of asylum seekers started arriving annually. By 2015 there was an estimated 40,000 asylum seekers in Ireland. Apart from asylum seekers other migrants come to Ireland from the EU and around the world in search of employment opportunities and education. Many others through the UNHCR refugee resettlement programme. Recent statistics indicate that 12 percent of the population of Ireland are migrants, and this number does not include the undocumented who are estimated to over 30,000. Migrants with no proper documentation (Undocumented) find it very difficult to secure work and some end up sleeping on the street and having to ask for small donations from passersby to survive.
Refugee Crisis. The recent immigration wave to Europe, with migrants escaping war from Syria and crossing the Mediterranean Sea to land mainly in Greece and Italy, will see an increase on migration trends in Ireland as the Minister for Justice announced that Ireland will accept over 4,000 people as part of the EU obligations. Of those, 500 will come under the UNHCR refugee resettlement program and the rest will be assessed as asylum seekers under the EU relocation program. As most of them are from Syria, it is hoped that they will be assessed quickly under a special scheme and will probably all get residency which will allow them to live and work in Ireland.
Seeking asylum, indeed, does not offer any guaranty for residency, as the application must first be assessed by State authorities. In the Irish context, those who are being granted this protection are actually less than 15%. And while the application is being examined (the process can take up to 5 years or more, depending on personal circumstances), applicants are offered a charter and direct provision of services, food and others, leaving them with only 19.10 euros per week per adult and 9.60 per child. This long and protracted process adds to the grief and trauma of many asylum seekers leading to different levels of mental health because of the uncertainty over the asylum claim, boredom, isolation, racism and exclusion, strange culture, lack of language, lack of control of personal life, etc.
A hostile attitude by some in the indigenous population makes integration difficult. Among migrants who struggle to integrate, women can be singled out because of their gender and not offered opportunity to educate themselves as such because they have also to look after their children, etc. Women who have come from conflict zones, in particular, for have being victimised by conflict, violence and poverty have been experiencing the most difficult time while trying to negotiate a new life in a society that is completely stranger to them
Welcoming a stranger should be a moral obligation since we all belong to One Humanity. Lots of Organisations, including Faith groups support initiatives for migrant integration. However the economic crisis of 2008 meant many organizations had to close their doors for lack of funding. Migrants themselves have also initiated programs that would empower those who face very difficult issues in Ireland. AkiDwa, for example, a national network of migrant women in Ireland, has been supporting women on gender based violence issues and social discrimination.
As I stated above, my early difficult experience in Ireland motivated me to become a supporter of others. I believe that all human being are parts of one body. Welcoming the stranger, for me, is a reconciliation of our one human body. And this is the baseline of the spirituality of the stranger that derives from my Christian faith. In 2010, learning from my experience in support of migrants through my job with SPIRASI, a Spiritan Fathers Organisation for the rehabilitation and integration of migrants and torture survivors, I co-founded Wezesha (Swahili for Empower) with Salome Mbugua, founder and then CEO of AkiDwA. We both learned that migration for women coming from conflict zones was a very difficult experience, so we founded Wezesha to support women and children victims of conflict and violence in Africa and help them to have better life there since they may not be able to come to Europe. At the same time, we have been working with those who have already come to Ireland to regain confidence and be able to support their relatives back in their countries of origin. We believe that, if such connection is made, it will help them to reconcile with the past difficult experience and therefore assist their rehabilitation and integration process. Wezesha has currently being piloted in two African countries, DR Congo and Kenya, counting over 500 women.

Egide Dhala