The #BlackLivesMatter protests across America and the world have brought to light the issue of racism in every country. Cohorts of people from every nation are investigating within, looking for evidence of racism and trying their best to educate, and spark change. In Ireland, racism and discrimination can be found in the Direct Provision System. There are now over 7,000 people seeking asylum and refuge in Ireland, living in often crowded and unstable accommodation centres.
The Direct Provision system has existed in Ireland since 1999 but since the global movement towards anti-racism, it has been getting a lot more coverage here. It has been heartening to witness a surge in people looking to help people living in the direct provision system. But how do we make sure this goodwill and energy is channelled effectively? With the help of Nick Henderson of the Irish Refugee Council and Celesta Khosa of Ballyhaunis Inclusion Project, we’ve compiled a short list of the best ways you can support people seeking asylum in Ireland and empower them to play a larger part in your community. We’ve also highlighted some of the things you need to watch out for to ensure your desire to help is directed in the right way.
What is Direct Provision?
Direct Provision is the system of accommodating people seeking asylum in Ireland. It was set up in 1999 as a short-term solution to provide accommodation, food and basic necessities while people apply for asylum. There are many challenges facing people living in these accommodation centres. The centres are often crowded, with sometimes multiple families sharing one room. They lack basic amenities, from outlets in their communities to basic needs like kitchen facilities. People seeking asylum that stay in these centres can be forced to move to another centre without any notice, and in some cases, have spent 7 years in direct provision awaiting refugee status. These are people who leave their home country for fear of war or persecution but arrive in Ireland to live in uncertainty, disenfranchised from Irish society.
What is the greatest challenge facing people in direct provision?
People in direct provision can spend years awaiting approval of their refugee status. Until then it’s a waiting game and they often spend their time idle in direct provision with very few outlets to develop themselves or integrate into their communities. Celesta of Ballyhaunis Inclusion Project described the biggest challenge of people in direct provision is getting involved in the community. Celesta, who is originally from South Africa, and has been awaiting refugee status approval for over 2 years, explained that they’re generally not looking for charity, but looking for ways to get involved in the community,
“just get us involved – jobs, volunteering, anything!”.
– Celesta Khosa
How you can help
Nick Henderson believes this is the greatest way you can support people in direct provision. Community Sponsorship means getting together with some neighbours or friends to provide support and housing for a family seeking asylum in Ireland. It is a huge commitment, but incredibly rewarding and it empowers your community to play an active role in the integration of people into our society. Community Sponsorship is carried out by Regional Support Organisations like Irish Red Cross, NASC Ireland, and the Irish Refugee Council. Home from Home D6 is an initiative that shows how communities can come together to transform the lives of people seeking asylum and refuge.
Invites to local events and volunteer opportunities
There are community-run events in every parish in Ireland, so make sure you invite residents from your local direct provision centre to your next event (even if it’s hosted online at this time!). You can even go a step further and ask for volunteers to help organise the events. Celesta stated that people seeking asylum have nothing but time and a desire to help, “Call on us, all we have is time. Let us use it”. So the next time you’re organising a Street Feast or community meetup, bring some posters down to your local centre or send an email.
Teach English and other skills
English usually isn’t the first language of people seeking asylum in Ireland. Not having a basic understanding of English can be an obstacle when trying to integrate into Irish society and Celesta confirmed there was no shortage of desire for English classes. One of our inclusion ideas, Fáilte Isteach, connects older volunteers with migrants to provide conversational English classes. Celesta also suggested that teaching a new skill to people seeking asylum would not only allow them to develop themselves but also provide them with an outlet to be engaged with. So, if you have a skill or craft, or if you already teach classes, open up the opportunity to people in direct provision.
Contacting your local TD
Direct Provision is a systemic issue, which means it needs the government to reform it. The good news is that the newly elected government has committed to ending direct provision by the end of its term. Abolishing the archaic system won’t be straightforward, so it will be a while before progress is seen. In the meantime, you can contact the minister for integration Roderic O’Gorman to show you support this commitment and want action to be taken as quickly as possible. Here’s what you should include in your email.
- Your name and parish
- Explain the reason for sending this email – you’re concerned with the direct provision system in Ireland and you strongly support the commitment to end it.
- Tell them that you are not happy with this system and tell them what it means to you to have it reformed.
Donating to your local centre
One of the most common ways people have tried to help people in direct provision is by donating hygiene products and old clothes. Although for the most part these donations have been well received and much appreciated, Nick warns us that we need to ensure that we’re donating what’s really needed. He explained that clothes donations have sometimes led to clothes dumping, and people getting rid of shabby, worn clothes they no longer want, and often the hygiene products that are donated aren’t actually scarce.
So, if you’re considering providing some toiletries to your local direct provision centre, be sure you check in with the centre itself to see if there are any specific products that they need. If you’re thinking of donating some old clothes, ask yourself “do you think these clothes are fit to be worn again?”
Other well-received donations are school books and stationery. A voucher for your local bookshop may be a good idea for the upcoming back-to-school season.
Providing face masks is also a very relevant and beneficial donation you can provide. ChangeX project Sew Change empowered people with sewing machines in the community to sew face masks and send them to direct provision centres.
Host a welcome dinner!
People in direct provision often feel isolated and disenfranchised in our society, with little opportunity to integrate. One simple way to make a connection is to host a Welcome Dinner, a simple idea that entails inviting someone living in a DP Centre to your home for a meal. Or you could go a step further and organise a larger dinner that brings communities, cultures and food together in a community space. Melting Pot Luck is a non-profit founded in Galway that does just this. They also provide kitchen facilities and ingredients for these families living in DP to cook and share their culture through food. It’s a very simple but impactful way you can help people seeking asylum in Ireland to integrate into your community.
Some pics from our Welcome Dinners hosted by ChangeX starters
Knock on the door and ask
People seeking asylum want to be a part of the community, but often don’t know how. Celesta suggests that you should call by your local centre and simply ask what support is needed. Sometimes it might be just some book or clothes donations, and other times a chance to meet with local community members. Whatever the case, stop by and ask.
It’s clear that the direct provision system is outdated and it needs some work. It is so energising to see people from communities across the country showing a desire to help those stuck in this system. Let’s ensure our efforts fulfil the needs of those in direct provision and help them integrate into our society.
Do you know of any other ways or initiatives in your community that help to integrate those living in direct provision? Let us know at [email protected]
Stay safe and stay connected!