On Wednesday, 24th of March, Schools of Sanctuary, in association with NUI Galway, hosted a webinar entitled ‘Living as a Refugee in Ireland’. This was for all second level students and teachers in the Republic of Ireland. Speakers gave an insight into their experiences as refugees in Ireland, from living in direct provision to the barriers they face in the education system. It proved to be a fascinating panel, with truly powerful and emotionally impactful stories from each of the speakers.
Homayoon spoke about his experience in travelling from Afghanistan to Ireland, after it became unsafe for him to continue working with a programme providing education to deprived children. He came to Ireland as a refugee in 2016, beginning the tedious process of applying for asylum. Before his family were eventually also allowed to move to Ireland, he feared for their safety and bringing them to join him was a lengthy, complicated and expensive process. Finding permanent employment as a refugee was challenging, and despite initially finding a job in Dublin, it was unfeasible to stay in Dublin with his family due to the cost of accommodation. Now, he offers his skills back to the community, doing volunteer work with schools, and working with Places of Sanctuary.
Naima also sought asylum in Ireland in 2016, and has been living in Direct Provision since then. Despite the fact that this is only meant to be a temporary accommodation, like many others, she has been waiting over 5 years. There are 200 residents in her centre, including around 60 children. She discussed the limited facilities in the centre, such as a kitchen which opened last September, but is only available at certain hours. Before then, residents were prohibited from cooking and were provided with 3 set meals. Residents also live in close quarters, making it difficult in the current pandemic to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Naima also discussed the struggle of not having an acceptable form of ID, and the fact that some residents are still ineligible to work and are forced to live on a weekly allowance. She is the Chair of the resident group in the centre, advocating on the behalf of residents, holding clinics to help and advise, and co-ordinating activities – and all this on a purely voluntary basis.
Two of the speakers, Raneem and Lizi, are secondary school students who are sitting their leaving certificate exams while living in Direct Provision. Both spoke of the challenges they have encountered as a result of this. Raneem has been living in Direct Provision for the last year and a half, sharing a room with her siblings and parents. Consequently, finding a quiet place to study has been difficult for her. Furthermore, she faces uncertainty regarding her education, as refugees are not considered home students and so have to pay international fees- something which her and her family cannot afford. She explained how her experiences in school in Ireland have taught her a great deal about herself, including her capabilities in leadership roles, and she is now the deputy head prefect in her school.
Lizi also mentioned the challenges of living in such close confinement with family, struggling with both the difficulty in concentrating and the lack of privacy. When she first came to Ireland, she didn’t know much English, and initially could not understand what the teachers were saying in class. However, the school provided extra English classes. She now hopes to continue her studies after the leaving cert, and like Raneem, is worried about the difficulties she faces as a refugee. She explained that transport and accessibility is also a barrier to those in her direct provision centre, as their centre is 8 km away from the nearest centre. As many are unable to drive due to restrictions, this results in further isolation. However, she said many are ambitious and have hope, and people motivate each other.
Mariam lives in an emergency direct provision centre after coming from Georgia with her family. She said it is stressful with 2 adults and 2 teens forced to live, study, sleep, and eat all in one room in an emergency centre. The pandemic has made this more of a struggle. Furthermore, waiting for refugee status means she cannot plan ahead, as they have no idea how long the process will take. Residents of her centre have been allowed to cook in a small kitchen, but these facilities must be shared with 60 people, and this can result in conflict. She said that it is challenging to get a job, and support from the community is needed. Currently, Mariam is active in the community, trying to keep busy. For example, she made and gave away hundreds of face masks during the pandemic. She was also involved in an exhibition in Gorey main street featuring work by residents of the centre.
The event was a huge success. Many thanks to all involved, especially the speakers, Homayoon, Naima, Mariam, Raneem and Lizi.