Guest Posts for Equality: It is common for migrants to be seen as stereotypes rather than as we really are

In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message

Luke Bukha is a Zimbabwean born Irish activist with Anti Racism Network (ARN)

equalityheart

This was originally published as a letter in the Irish Times:

Editor,

The Irish Times speculates “tens of thousands of Christian immigrants who have become Irish citizens” and even “up to 200,000 immigrants” may “help swing the vote in favour of No on May 22” and paints a picture of African people in Ireland especially as one unvaried, homogenous group (““New Irish” Christians gather to vote No in referendum”, Sunday 17th May). It is common, as Irish people know, for migrants to be seen as stereotypes rather than as we really are, in all our diversity. The media tries, in articles like this, to pigeon hole us, the “New Irish”, in a particular way that does not reflect us as we really are. We in the migrant communities in Ireland are diverse and our paths to this country and our experiences before and during our journey here were also many, and have shaped how we live our lives now, in the present. Some of us are Christian, some Muslim; some of us are of no religion, some atheists. Some of us are straight, some LGBT. Some of us have come here to escape persecution and threats to our lives and the lives of our families because of our political views, our ethnicity, our gender, because of poverty, to escape war, to make a better life for ourselves and our families, and some of us to escape persecution because we are LGBT.

That is why this referendum is about more than same-sex marriage for those of us who are calling for a Yes vote in the migrant communities. Voting Yes on Friday is about opening up to the other who may be different to you or me. It is about overcoming suspicion of anyone who doesn’t behave or look like ‘us’. Racial and ethnic minorities in this country know what it feels like to be discriminated against and held suspect because of our skin colour, our accent, our way of life, our religion. Voting Yes will help this country that is now our home to move away from the intolerant Ireland that was not a place for non-white people, and closer to a future where we can all be accepted as we are.

To show that many of us in the migrant communities, LGBT and straight, support Yes for Equality, a number of us came together to make a video with Anti-Racism Network Ireland (ARN) calling for a Yes vote on Friday. Articles such as the one published this week in the Irish Times ignore our existence, but we are here, and for every one of us calling publically for a Yes vote, there are many, many more.

In common with all citizens in Ireland, for those of us who can vote the referendum is our chance to define the country we want to live in. Let’s go and vote, but let’s vote for the future, not for the past.

Yours

Luke Bukha, Dublin 2

Guest Posts for Equality: It is common for migrants to be seen as stereotypes rather than as we really are
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From Danielle: End Direct Provision in Ireland

Danielle has been writing about direct provision:

A woman stands in the background of the picture, facing you. Between you are the backs of three heads. Above this is text which reads:

A comic about the system of direct provision in Ireland, wherein those seeking refugee status are given less than €20 per week as an adult, and less than €10 for their children.

Due to the Citizenship Referendum of 2004, those born in Ireland no longer receive automatic citizenship unless at least one parent already has citizenship.

Kids who’ve grown up here, made friends, and known no other country are deported after long processes to find out their legal status.

Racist and xenophobic members of this country, including the ruling government, want to keep this system. Those seeking asylum are fighting back, and I hope those of us with the privilege not to be directly affected by these abuses will have their backs.

The Irish Refugee Council are holding a national demonstration on the 20th of November 2014 to end DP. It’s not everything, but DP is a system nobody should have to live under.

Yep. What she said.

From Danielle: End Direct Provision in Ireland

How to respond to racist attacks? Put your money where your mouth is!

TW: racism, violence, pictures of racist graffiti. TL;DR, if you’re not up for facing that: Racists say shops run by immigrants aren’t welcome. How about supporting your local immigrant-run businesses? Today!

Continue reading “How to respond to racist attacks? Put your money where your mouth is!”

How to respond to racist attacks? Put your money where your mouth is!

Seeking Sanctuary: LGBT asylum seekers in Ireland

BeLonG To have made a fantastic video highlighting the experiences of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers here in Ireland. It’s part of their larger Asylum Seekers and Refugees Project, which works to provide support and a safe space for LGBT asylum seeker and refugee young people. It’s difficult watching, but absolutely worth the 8 minutes. The lives of asylum seekers and refugees are widely ignored in this country, they’re made to live in inhuman conditions while becoming convenient political scapegoats.

Make yourself a cuppa and check this out. Then share it to everyone you know.

 

And more from the Tea Cosy:
Seeking Sanctuary: LGBT asylum seekers in Ireland

Abortion in Ireland: the facts.

Via IFPA:

Every day 12 women leave Ireland to access abortion services in the UK. Who are these women and girls? You might be surprised. Women who have abortions come from all walks and all stages of life. They are women you know.

 

More on abortion in Ireland from the past few days:

An intro to abortion rights in Ireland.

About the new Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast- why it’s both a small and groundbreaking step.

And one thing to think about: Even life-saving abortions may not be available in Ireland. What does this mean for migrant women who may not be able to obtain visas to travel overseas? Pro-lifers will tell you that Ireland is one of the safest places in the world to give birth. I guess that only counts if you’re a citizen?

Abortion in Ireland: the facts.

Anti-Deportation Ireland launch

(Note: In this post, I’ll be sharing things raised and spoken about at the ADI launch. Because of the risk this could pose to the people in question, however, I’m not going to give their names or any details about them unless I get explicit permission to do so.)

Anti-Deportation Ireland was officially launched on Wednesday morning. ADI is “a national, multi-ethnic grassroots network/alliance of activists, asylum seekers, refugees, community workers, trade unionists, and academics who have come together to campaign against forced deportation in Ireland, and for the abolition of the direct provision system.”. They have three demands:

  1. An immediate end to all deportations
  2. The immediate abolition of the direct provision system.
  3. The right to work for people seeking asylum.

So why these demands? How do direct provision and deportation work in Ireland, and why is it so important to end them?

Direct Provision

Direct provision is how asylum seekers’ basic needs- for food and shelter- are provided in Ireland. Asylum seekers are placed in hostels. Food is provided by these hostels. Because food and shelter are directly provided, the only money people are given is an allowance of €19.50 per week. Until people’s claims have been decided, they do not have the right to work or education in Ireland. The amount of time it can take for a claim to be decided varies hugely- people can spend years waiting for a decision.

Despite the name, direct provision isn’t, well, directly provided by the State. It’s outsourced privately, and because of this becomes a for-profit enterprise. Despite being outsourced, it’s unregulated. Can you see where this is going? People are accommodated three, four, five to a room, with different families sharing a room. The standard of food can be atrocious. Not only is it extremely bad, but in many cases utterly unlike what people are used to in their home countries. And because of direct provision, asylum seekers don’t have the facilities or the rights to even cook their own food.

Complaining about conditions is rarely an option. People who complain about overcrowding are told that they should be grateful that they are not homeless. That they’re taking up room that Irish homeless people don’t have- pitting two extremely vulnerable minorities in this country against each other.

Several people talked about raising their families in direct provision. One woman spoke of how one of her children is too young to remember anything else. How she doesn’t know the difference between a bedroom and a living room and a kitchen. How happy her child is whenever they leave the hostel, and how she hates having to go back ‘home’. Another speaker talked about the particularly Irish way in which cases of child abuse within hostels are dealt with. Perpetrators can be, in a cruel echo of so many other institutions in this country, simply moved from hostel to hostel. This is happening now. And those who complain are often moved themselves, without any right to protest, to other hostels around the country, disrupting any fragile sense of community they might have created where they are. People are denied the right to privacy, to cook their own food, to have a home where they feel safe and where they know how long they can stay.

Right to Work

As well as being forced to live in specific hostels, asylum seekers in Ireland are denied the right to work and education while their claims are being processed- which can take years. On the one hand, this is immensely wasteful. Ireland is in a recession! How many skilled, educated, qualified people are languishing in hostels unable to work, when they could be contributing to society? This also shows the lie of the idea that asylum seekers and migrants are ‘draining’ the system. These people are not permitted to work, even when they want to. On the other hand, years of enforced, stultifying idleness can be devastating for asylum seekers. Not being able to work means that people’s skills get rusty. Work and education are also two of the major ways that people integrate and find a place in communities. Direct provision and the denial of the right to work and study keep asylum seekers separate from Irish society. They mean that people can be here for years with no ability to put down roots and make a home. That Irish people don’t get to work and study beside asylum seekers. That we see asylum seekers as other.

Deportation

Asylum seekers, however, don’t just have to live with direct provision. They also face the constant threat of deportation. On World Refugee Day this year, the 20th of June, 18 people were deported from this country. Twelve of them were children. People are not deported during the day. They are taken from their beds in the middle of the night. When neighbours don’t notice. When people who could help them to appeal are out of work, are asleep. Without notice.

Several people spoke of the constant threat of deportation. About staying awake through the night, sacred this would be the night they’d be forced out. One speaker remarked that even criminals in prison in this country know what they have been sentenced to. They know how long they’ll be there. Asylum seekers don’t have even this security. Another speaker remarked that for asylum seekers, the normal rights accorded people by the legal system are turned upside-down. Asylum seekers are assumed guilty and lying until proven otherwise. The burden of proof is on them, and it is made incredibly difficult to prove themselves innocent. But, as several people asked, why would someone put themselves through this system without good reason? Why would they live like this, for years on end, if they didn’t absolutely need to?

Not okay.

Direct provision, night-time deportations, denial of basic human rights- these things are done by the state to asylum seekers. But as one speaker said, there is a thing line between a refugee and a citizen. Our government has shown that it is willing to trample basic human rights, to engage in a deliberate campaign to other and alienate a group of people. The ‘asylum seeker’ is constructed as scapegoat and a subject for deportation. As Irish people, we need to contest this construction. We need to reach out to people seeking asylum, to hear their stories, to share these stories every way we can. We need to bring the lives of asylum seekers into the light. As one speaker said, “No more secrets. No more lies. No more lying awake every night waiting to be taken away”.

More info on the launch at Cedar Lounge Revolution, Politico, Millstreet.ie and Irish Left Review. Follow ADI on Facebook to find out more about what they are doing and how you can get involved.

Myself and Ariel Silvera also livetweeted this meeting. A summary of these is available here.

Anti-Deportation Ireland launch

Immigration, and emigration, and an apology

I have an apology to make. Not because of anything I did on purpose, and not because of anything that I did with any malice or ill-will whatsoever. But I have been incredibly ignorant, and I want to apologise. Unreservedly.

It’s about immigration. And emigration. A bit of background for those of you who aren’t really connected to Ireland: since the mid ’90s, Ireland has become a place people immigrate into. It never really was before- in the ’80s, it was a place people emigrated from in their tens of thousands. But for my adult life up until the last year or two, Ireland has been a destination country. And I saw that as absolutely a good thing.

And you know something? It was. For Ireland. We benefited from all the awesomeness and diversity of many thousands of people from all over the world. Our society got the shaking up that it so desperately needed, we were forced to look outside our parochial little world and see things from other points of view. We got to share in the fruits of all the different expertise, experience and perspectives of the people who made their lives here. And, yes, we Irish had the privilege of getting other people to do the jobs we didn’t want to.

It’s a pity that we were so damned ungrateful, and my response until now has always been a rejection of that. If someone wanted to give out about Those Pesky Immigrants Stealin’ Our Jobs And Our Women? They got a hell of an earful, starting with No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish and ending up with Precisely What They Have In Fact Done For Us, Thank You Very Much.

But I left something out, and for that I want to apologise.

You see, recently I’ve realised something. In my eagerness to talk about how immigration is Bloody Brilliant for Ireland, I may have left some people out, and forgotten a major point. I forgot about the people coming here. And I forgot about the people they had to leave behind.

You see, I’ve always loved to travel. I’ve always loved to live in different places, visit places, spend a few months here and a year there, immerse myself in different places and meet new people. All that good stuff. It didn’t hit me until this past week that there is a difference- a huge one- between travelling because you want to, and leaving because you have no choice. It didn’t hit me until I realised that it already has hit us.

Poster for 7upfree's Bring Them Back for the Craic competition, offering a flight home to Ireland for seven people from anywhere in the world, for St Patrick's Day
Two things happened in the past week. I was taking a bus to the train station last week, and noticed the poster to the right. Bring them Back for the Craic. Seven flights home for seven friends from anywhere in the world.

Yes. We are a nation where all of a sudden, without noticing, it is expected that a very many of us will be able to think of seven people that they’d like to fly home for Paddy’s Day. I don’t remember that happening- but when I think about it, it’s so very clear that it already has.

The second thing happened last weekend. See, me and the lovely Amanda Harper have a thing. Every few months (or whenever we’re all in the same city and free, which can make it a little less often than that), me and her and a couple of other friends have a marvelous tradition of Entirely Nerdy Girls’ Night Out. And this week, one of our number is emigrating. So last Saturday we all headed over to one of their houses for an evening of food and delightful nerdery.

It didn’t hit me until I was there. I’ve been to loads of going-away parties in my time. But normally it was because someone fancied heading away for a year or two. Or they met someone positively delightful in a faraway land. Or they wanted to study overseas. Or they had always wanted to live elsewhere. Or they wanted to travel and see the world. Or their absolute dream job was elsewhere. Or even that they needed to move away to somewhere where their marriage would be recognised.

There’s a common thread with all of those situations. Even though there is always pain in loss, and we will always miss each other, there is joy there. The person leaving has found something that is awesome enough to be worth leaving us all for. They’re following their heart, or their dreams, or their itchy feet and insatiable curiosity. We miss each other, but it’s a gorgeous and rich thing that they’re going for.

This time didn’t feel so good. And this time is, I am growing ever more certain, the first of many. Many people who would have loved to stay, who would have loved to follow their dreams and curiosities and loves right here. People who have to leave not because of being pulled by the promise of fulfilment, but being pushed by the lack of any goddamned way to make a life here. Because it’s getting bad enough that leaving the people and places that you love, never knowing when or if you’ll be able to come back, isn’t as bad as staying.

So I would like to apologise. I want to apologise for saying that immigration is unreservedly a good thing. I want to apologise to everyone who has had to leave the people and places they love, never knowing when or whether they will see them again. I’m sorry to all of you who wished you could stay. I’m sorry to all of you who miss your family, miss your friends, miss your loved ones. I’m sorry to all of you who miss your home town. I’m sorry that I would ever belittle the sacrifices that you’ve made and continue to make. And I hope that you find a home, wherever it may be.

Oh, also: Amanda Harper posted about this too! Check her out!

Immigration, and emigration, and an apology