During the summer of 2016, students in the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ DukeEngage: Dublin program are writing reflections of their time working with immigrants and refugees in the Dublin area which are being published in the weekly Irish publication Metro Eireann.
Ramadan, Refugees, and Writing in Dublin
A young Afro-Arab-American woman sits in a cozy theater in Dublin, one hundred years after the 1916 Easter Rising, and listens to the words of James Joyce whilst fasting the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Far from the summer evening rain, she walks past the books on capitalism, imperialism, and poetry, and raptly watches “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” – and he speaks across the century:
“When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”
As a person privileged enough to choose to come to Ireland, Joyce’s words – bitter ones of an emigrant dealing with his country’s identity – resonated me with me deeply that night. What does it mean, after all, to be an immigrant of both Middle Eastern and English background, fasting Ramadan whilst she is meant to be serving refugee populations in Dublin, who are fleeing countries torn apart by the self-same nets that Joyce described? What does it mean for her to be constantly grappling with those nets as they are drawn on both sides of the Mediterranean, whilst her countries all question the meaning of self-determination, revolution, and their responsibilities therein?
For myself and for the city of literature, the answer seems to be found in the art of writing. In writing one’s story, a narrative is created – and Dublin has been a series of stories and storytellers, whether they were of kingdoms or of revolutions or of struggles or of historians or of economists, seeking to make the city what it is today. What ties those stories together is that they are not simple answers to hard questions – they are as deep and murky and influential as the now-forgotten pool that gave Dublin its name. They are as diverse and difficult to decipher as the men and women who made Ireland itself what it is.
And for someone who can find it hard to look with optimism at the situations creating refugees and their reception, Dublin’s complex stories give me hope. It can be hard to see light, but here, I watch it, as the sun sets above Dublin’s skyline and I break my fast in solidarity with so many others finding refuge in this country tonight. I see it, as the sun peeks out from behind the clouds at Dalkey Book Festival, and I listen to famed writers able to laugh about the influences that have made Ireland what it is. I bask in it, as it pours through the windows of the Little Museum, and a tour guide is able to sing to us about painful pasts – pasts that for other people remain painful today.
To be able to sit in peace near the Liffey and write this letter, knowing that these hard questions are being spoken about normally in Ireland after much hardship (and that I’m able to write these platitudes at all), gives me hope that they can be spoken about just as peacefully one day in other places. In many ways, my first week in Ireland has been heartening – and going into these eight weeks, I hope that Dublin can find another rich layer of stories to be stamped into its streets, by the feet of those in exiles much like those already known to this city.
The Next Generation of Dublin
As I stepped towards the customs official at Dublin Airport, my heart felt like it was trying to shake the loose contents from my ribcage, as someone dumps out a purse in search of keys. I was nervous—not because I had done anything wrong, but because I knew I could easily say something that would lead to more questions. When I handed the officer my passport, he asked me what I was doing in Ireland. I told him I was here for a program with my school. Of course, he then asked me what type of program. I responded that I and a group of seven other students were placed at Dublin organizations focused on refugee issues. My placement would be at CASS, a citizenship services office and part of the New Communities Partnership. Skeptical, he asked me for proof.
At this point, after five minutes at the counter, I was frantic. I could not access my email via the airport wifi, so I passed another five minutes searching through notes on my phone to find something, anything that could help me. Finally, I found a rough screenshot of an email with my plane tickets. Just as I was thinking I would be denied entry, sent home, or worse, asked another question, the officer looked me sternly in the eyes and said “Well John, I am going to have to take a chance on you. Have a nice day.” He handed me back my passport, giving me a look that added “Don’t be an idiot next time.”
As a first introduction to Ireland, this was not what I had expected. I thought I would first get to see how kind the people were, or how beautiful Dublin was. Instead, I saw how the transition from life in the U.S. to our Duke Engage summer would involve challenges—though I soon saw the support system that would make our goals achievable. When our group arrived to the hotel, we were greeted by smiling employees, who made sure we were all ready for our stay; during our search for groceries, the Dubliners were happy to offer directions, which led to conversations about who we are and why we are in Dublin. Despite my customs experience, the Dublin community showed how much it would help our transition to the Duke Engage summer.
The theme of transitions is one that I realize will become essential to my experience in Dublin. Fundamentally, refugees live in the transition between the familiar and the foreign as they move to new countries. Likewise, my service at CASS will require me to understand the transitions maneuvered by the refugees applying for citizenship, just as I go through my own in adjusting to Dublin.
However, Dublin on a much larger scale is a city of transitions and adaptation, as it has been explained by historians, economists, and writers who have spoken to our Duke Engage group. Over the centuries, the city’s neighborhood distinctions have moved from a prominent East-West divide to a North-South socioeconomic divide, shifting conceptions of the city. In addition, Dublin blends the rural traditions of Ireland with the contemporary modern city, just as it retains remnants of its colonial ties to Britain, while simultaneously emphasizing its independence. These many layers to life distinguish Dublin from other cities and are essential to understand but confusing for outsiders—Americans, other Europeans, and refugees alike.
For refugees in the process of adapting, the most important facet of Dublin’s many characters may be the city’s increasing diversity. Dublin has incorporated large populations of immigrants since the 1980s, including refugees. These refugees are integral to the new chapter in Dublin’s narrative, because they bring new culture, vitality, and stories to the city. However, to make the most of what the refugees bring to the community, Ireland must integrate refugees into the country’s culture. In the process, integration helps the refugees adapt to the Irish context. As I help with citizenship services at CASS, I will be wrapped in one of the most important aspects of integration: attaining citizenship.
Ultimately, multiculturalism will be a major component of Dublin’s future. As renowned playwright Conor McPherson put it at the Dalkey Book Festival, multiculturalism will not be something that the writers and leaders of older generations will be able to interpret; rather, it will be the younger generations who find new meaning from the mixture of cultures. Among these generations who directly experience the transition towards a multicultural Dublin are the refugees, and they will no doubt be a part of forming the story of the new Dublin. As people living dynamic lives themselves, who could be better than refugees to contribute to an ever-changing Dublin?
Simplicity Amid Complications
I sit at my placement this summer trying to sort through the ins and outs of an asylum application and understand all of the different outcomes of the process, and the difficulty of it all overwhelms me. Yes, I had heard stories about the lengthy, unreasonable process, even read through the relevant acts and laws beforehand, but nothing prepares you for all the complications involved. The situation for separated children in particular is incredibly difficult to understand, and I’m a 19-year old native English speaker whose life is not dependent on comprehending all the nuances of this process. An application that seems straightforward on the surface becomes a lot more complicated when you consider factors like missing documents, where you will stay while the application is being processed, what you will do if you receive a negative decision, how you will get reunited with your family, whether you should apply for refugee status or whether you should just apply for humanitarian leave to remain, how to appeal your determination, etc. Different statuses have very different implications, and it’s almost impossible to understand without extensive reading and experience.
Dublin, in many ways, is also complicated beyond belief. You’ll find a street that changes names three times over the course of a couple blocks, a bookstore championing both communist and capitalist ideas, people walking past you on both the left and right side of the sidewalk (still not sure which way you are supposed to go), remnants of British colonialism, and a thousand other things that don’t really seem to make sense. If you try to characterize Dublin in a few sentences, it’s likely you are a tourist that stayed for less than a few days, and your characterization is almost definitely incorrect.
Before I arrived here, I thought the right way to prepare for everything Dublin had to offer was to watch every YouTube video that mentioned Dublin and read every travel blog created on the subject. Looking back, that was the last thing I should have done. I’m starting to realize that in trying to understand Dublin, I drifted even further from understanding it than when I started.
Because what’s best about Dublin is that you can’t characterize it. It’s a city that can’t be labeled, a city with a thousand different personalities, a city where people walk on both sides of the sidewalk, a city no book nor video will ever do justice. The most fascinating thing about a “Dubliner” is that you cannot accurately describe one. Though the city and everything about it seems so complicated, you can find a hidden simplicity in it if you stop trying to figure it all out.
It’s a simplicity that reminds me of what the social workers in my placement are trying to give to the children who come in. I watch them do everything they can to help the separated children that they represent, and I think I finally understand. I understand that children are and should be exactly that: children. They should not have to worry about the details of an asylum application. Each child deserves the simplicity of childhood, and the team at my placement does everything they can to give separated children who have been through so much an opportunity to experience a sense of simplicity. These children don’t want to talk about details of life back home, what kinds of foods they typically consumed growing up, what was distinctive about their culture, etc. They want to be children and have fun.
That’s why I’ve stopped making plans in Dublin. It may be the right way to approach every other city I’ve been to, but it’s the wrong way to approach Dublin. It’s truly a city that transcends travel guides, and because things are happening everywhere, the only way to get a grasp of the city is to go out and explore. That thought is scary at first, but once you get a sense of it, you’ll be drawn to it. The lessons I’ve learned from Dublin’s simplicity have helped me learn more about what we are hoping to achieve for the children at my social work team, while the children we’re working with have in turn helped me understand a little bit more about what it means to be a part of this city.
Through my first week here, I’ve learned that simplicity can be beautiful. The simplicity of childhood itself is liberating, just like leaving your apartment for the day with no plans and no idea where the day will take you. For that reason, I want to do everything I can to help the separated children seeking asylum worry less about the details of their applications and the complications of their lives and spend more time thinking about having fun and making the most of their childhoods.
Religious Imposition and Religious Freedom
On a picture perfect Irish day (around 55°F, light rain, grey skies, cold winds), some of us took a trip to a small town called Sandycove, about a half an hour away from Dublin by train. We wanted to visit the famous Forty Foot, a rocky, hidden swimming place on the coast. Much to our delight, the day that we chose to go, June 16, also happened to be Bloosmday, which commemorates the anniversary of the events of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which takes place on the same day in 1904, and for which many people dress in the style of 1904 and relive the events of Ulysses. When Ulysses was written featuring Forty Foot, it was an all male swimming location. The ability to enter that space as a woman is just one of many small changes that symbolize the evolution of Ireland since that time.
The walk through Sandycove was nothing short of enchanting, as we stumbled upon a town-wide celebration of Bloomsday. The town was in the full spirit of the day, with music, portrait taking, decorated streets, and mannequins in store windows adorned with long skirts, waistcoats, and fancy hats similar to those I’d expect at a British royal wedding. I was swept up in the joy and magic of the day, and only upon reflection did I notice how closely the demographics of Sandycove’s celebrating citizens seemed to mirror those of Ireland really up until the 1990s: white, working to middle class, and most likely Catholic.
When the second Irish Constitution was written some 80 years ago, the demographics of Ireland did resemble those of Bloomsday at Sandycove (white and Catholic). Accordingly, when the constitution was written it was filled to the brim with Catholic doctrine, embodied in the definitions of family structures, the layout of the education system, and even in rules related to medical practices. It suggests that, at the time, there existed an implicit belief and expectation that the population of Ireland should and would always be Catholic.
This constitution could accommodate the needs of a population resembling the one we saw at Sandycove. Ireland was once homogenous enough for this type of lawmaking to be effective. However, the role of religion in politics, law, and culture has been disputed for the larger part of the past 60 years. The nation has since been grappling with how to reconcile changing cultural norms with institutionalized religion.
Starting in the 1990s, changing discourse on the role of religion in daily life has been coupled with changing demographics in Ireland due to an influx of immigrants sparked by the economic boom at the time. This includes economic migrants, refugees fleeing conflict, and so many others. These migrants are not yet a part of Irish traditions, as they were not a part of Bloomsday or of the dialogue surrounding the Commemoration of 1916, and Ireland is grappling with how it can best incorporate migrants and their needs into society.
Over a week has passed since our Bloomsday adventure, and with it, our first week of work. My time so far working at Cairde, an organization which aims to address health inequalities among ethnic minority communities in Ireland, both in healthcare access and education, has highlighted this new reality of a diverse Ireland. My office is a wonderful hodge-podge of accents; it is composed of two American interns, just one Irishman, and people from Poland, Cameroon, China, Russia, Ukraine, Ghana, and other nations. While Cairde is about as diverse as it gets, its clientele encompasses an even greater range of nationalities and backgrounds.
Each of these people must confront the ramifications of living in a nation with a largely Catholic constitution, culture, and system of morals. Current debates surrounding access to, and the role of religion in, areas ranging from primary education to maternal health are highly consequential not just for people whose families have been in Ireland for generations, but also for immigrants who do not see Irish culture and its (albeit diminishing) ties to Catholicism as their own.
This is not as simple of an issue as it may seem to be, as it is not just a war between a theocratic government and champions of freedom of religion. As an outsider in Ireland, the tension between past and present ideologies is one that I am only beginning to understand. The Irish constitution has by no means been a stagnant purveyor of Vatican doctrine since its inception; it has undergone many changes and continues to be challenged. Just recently, for example, a referendum on abortion law passed allowing for women at risk of suicide to end their pregnancies (although it is extremely difficult to prove that one is at risk of suicide, and thus access this portion of the law). This was an extremely controversial change, triggering both celebrations for women’s rights and extreme anger over a betrayal of Catholic doctrine and cultural norms. However, the constitution’s ties to religion in education and maternal healthcare still have great consequences for those residing in Ireland, and especially for those who disagree with its tenets. I attended a conference on the role of religion in Ireland with my supervisor at Cairde that highlighted these problems.
At the conference, there was discussion on both maternal healthcare and primary education. While I had heard about both issues in Ireland before, the issues surrounding primary education became much clearer. Speakers explained that a vast majority of primary schools in Ireland require proof of baptism for admission, which is a policy supported by the Irish constitution and that is difficult to change. As someone working in Ireland on refugee issues, my mind immediately jumped to what the ramifications of this policy must be for that population. For young refugee children coming to Ireland, this poses a unique barrier to starting school. And when refugees and migrants have their own children in Ireland in the future, they might be forced to choose between honoring their own religious traditions and thereby disadvantaging their children’s ability to be admitted into a school, or betraying their religious beliefs to give their children the best chance at an education.
Healthcare in Ireland, especially in respect to sexual and maternal health, is also imbued with traditionally Catholic principles. There are myriad examples throughout Irish history reflecting the consequences of its strict abortion laws. Just several years ago, doctors refused to perform an abortion for a woman who was miscarrying and asked for an abortion because they prioritized the slim chance of the fetus’s survival over the mother’s, in accordance with how Catholic principles have shaped abortion law. She ultimately died from sepsis caused by carrying a dead fetus. This reflects the deprivation of choice that women face over their futures, and a history of women dying after doctors refused to help them end pregnancies that threatened, and ultimately took, their lives. In the context of migrants and refugees, this means that migrants who have had an abortion are fearful to disclose that information to doctors for fear of shame and stigma. Women who have faced sexual violence and rape cannot reclaim control of their bodies, especially if they become pregnant, which can cause any other number of problems in the future. People’s freedoms are consistently restricted because of the beliefs held by a religion that is typically not theirs.
With an emerging sense of cultural pluralism in Ireland, and decades of discussion over the place of the Church in Irish society, debates over issues like education and abortion law are at the forefront of Ireland’s political scene. The nature of migration and of the progression of the beliefs of the Irish people mean that life in Ireland, and policy in Ireland, will never be as simple as they were when Joyce wrote the novel that we celebrate over a century later. With this complexity, though, comes the beauty of the convergence of people from all walks of life seeking haven in Dublin. Only time will tell how this nation handles its changing landscape, and changes doctrines of the past to meet the needs of the present.
Direct Provision Today: Asking Tough Questions
Breaks are mandatory in Ireland. For every hour, you need (are required to have) a five-minute break, plus lunch and tea, or your mind won’t function properly. I’m not convinced that this system is entirely inefficient: For the other fifty-five minutes, the office is buzzing with activity, with phones to answer, reports to compile, and random meetings no one ever seems to know about.
This is my second week working at the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), an offshoot of the Department of Justice and Equality. The term “agency” is deceptive. RIA doesn’t have any legislative powers but is an administrative entity set up by the Irish State to oversee basic provision for asylum seekers—food, housing, healthcare. Indeed, when writers at the Irish Times criticize Direct Provision, Ireland’s means of meeting the basic needs of food and shelter for asylum seekers directly while their claims for refugee status are being processed, they refer to RIA as if it is somehow separate from the State, when in reality it’s not. It is one small part of Ireland’s vast civil service.
From day one, I perceived a bit of a divide within the refugee sector in Ireland, with NGOs on one side and RIA on the other. People talk skeptically of RIA; they question their work and their competency. They worry that rights of asylum seekers are not being adequately met by RIA. The roots of this skepticism are hard to identify and harder to understand. Maybe it is because NGOs struggle for funding while RIA receives funding from a larger state budget to do its work. Maybe it is because NGOs are advocates for the rights of asylum seekers working always to extend those rights while RIA ensures legal rights to basic provision are administratively met.
Interestingly, much of the recent controversy over the work of RIA is centered on food: How can asylum seekers living in direct provision for up to seven or even twelve years eating catered food three times a day? Isn’t it a basic human right to be able to cook for oneself? Such questions expose an even deeper tension, between EU member states and Brussels, where councils far from Dublin decide what constitutes humane treatment and what doesn’t, without the direct input of the Irish people themselves.
The Irish government is still reeling from the protests over direct provision that occurred two years ago, and yet curiously Ireland remains a model for other EU states for how to care for asylum seeker populations. Sure there are trade-offs in any system and improvements are always—in theory—possible, but the standard of care for asylum seekers is in fact comparatively quite high. So it is easy to see why Ireland’s solution, despite local criticism, is an international model. The direct provision center in Mosney, located in what used to be a family summer camp by the sea before packages to Spain became cheap, boasts individual homes for families, a preschool for young children, excellent meals, and the best scones I have ever tasted. And yet it is isolated from Irish society, located in a rural area between Dublin and Drogheda. While direct provision centers like Mosney are definitely institutions that do not fully integrate asylum seekers into Irish society, Ireland does have one of the lowest acceptance rates for asylum applications in the EU. When the vast majority of refugees are unlikely to remain in Ireland, does it make sense to integrate them into the community if they won’t ultimately be granted leave to remain? In some ways, this reminds me of the rhetoric surrounding illegal immigration in the United States. Once people have integrated into American communities, worked, paid taxes, and joined universities, according to some they should be allowed to stay. Perhaps this is why the Irish public is so against asylum seekers getting jobs or granting citizenship to the Irish-born children of refugees.
Coming from an immigrant family myself, the idea that the Irish voted overwhelmingly against birthright citizenship is difficult to understand. What could be more Irish than being born in Ireland? But then I realized how I take this idea for granted, being from the most diverse country in the world. Ireland is still new to the immigrant game. On the surface, it may seem like America or the United Kingdom, but twenty years ago Ireland was an extremely homogenous country. A woman at a bus stop in the suburbs was complaining to me about how most people in Dublin don’t even know how to get around the city, because they weren’t “from here.” There is an old Ireland and a new, but they both exist at the same time, battling for dominance. At the heart of it all is the question, “What does it mean to be Irish?” that still has no answer.
I’m not sure if the kids growing up in Mosney would consider themselves Irish. It is a strange thing, to have been born in one place, hear stories of another, and ultimately know neither. Many of these children will return to Nigeria, Pakistan, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it will be as if they were never here. It’s sad to think about, but it’s really a question for another day, or maybe another person. Our job is to figure out what they’re having for lunch, where they’re sleeping, and where they’ll go to school. At RIA, these are the tough questions, the ones we work hard to answer. The rest is philosophy.
Tell Me Your Story, Tell Me Your Ireland
In an ever-diversifying Ireland, Metro Éireann, Ireland’s leading multicultural newspaper and the organization with which I am serving this summer, seeks to reinforce the integrative core underlying Ireland’s heterogeneity, illustrating that the overall Irish narrative could not exist without the many minority groups populating the nation. Reporting with Metro Éireann, I watched asylum seekers and refugees band together to march through North Dublin in celebration of the 2016 Dublin Pride Parade, their group name Open the Borders printed on their shirts; their Ireland is a place in which they can show their true colors, carrying rainbow flags from direct provision centers to the Garden of Remembrance. Not far from the River Liffey, I interviewed the CEO of the new company Food So Africa (FOSOA). This business strives to bridge cultures by demonstrating the unifying nature of different cuisines, prompting non-Africans in Ireland to engage with pan-African culture by rebranding and remarketing traditional foods that have not yet gained popularity in much of the Western world. Their Ireland is a place of opportunity, where a heightened understanding of interculturalism could flourish. However, through writing articles on topics like these with Metro Éireann, I present only a glimmer of someone’s story.
Each individual has their own understanding of Ireland, their own account of how they fit here, and their own trepidations about what or how much to share with others. We can look at statistics to better understand the diversity that abounds in Dublin and beyond, but if we want to tap into the emotions that underscore interculturalism, we have to delve beyond the quantitative by listening to or reading about what various asylum seekers, refugees, and members of the Irish immigrant community view as their Ireland. Be it for catharsis or persuasion, preserving memories or testing the depths of one’s imagination, I believe in the power of storytelling. However, while each story told has an angle and every tale a target audience, all too often, the greatest of narratives remain unwritten.
Empowering young storytellers could provide a wealth of knowledge about Ireland’s changing landscape. In a nation once known for its emigrants, the turn towards Ireland welcoming asylum seekers has certainly given rise to a cultural shift, and for many of Ireland’s adolescent residents, this shift may encapsulate the only Ireland they know. Only through their stories can we acquaint ourselves with their Ireland. As I read Deborah Scroggins’ Emma’s War: Love, Betrayal, and Death in the Sudan to prepare for a book discussion with my DukeEngage cohort, I was struck by the power storytelling can have on young people, as Scroggins details that young Riek, “tasted what he called ‘the thrill of reading and writing – to know what others have written, to get knowledge of others’… [and] to ‘spear words on paper’.” That last clause, with its new spin on the classic adage that the pen is mightier than the sword, has stuck with me through the preparatory stages of my primary summer project, designing and implementing the 2nd Annual Metro Éireann-Kenan Institute Intercultural Writing Competition, a contest targeted at adolescents from various backgrounds, all of whom are to write about the ethical challenges of intercultural diversity in Ireland.
As I speak with young people about the competition when scurrying around Dublin to leave flyers at local libraries and refugee-focused NGOs or in between participating in activities like Gaelic games with adolescents connected to Separated Children Seeking Asylum, I find that, while some young adults are eager to write, telling me they love poetry or fiction, others, who have come to Ireland as asylum seekers, express variations of, “I don’t know what I would write,” or, “I don’t have anything to say.” Pretty prose may be a nicety, but the heart of one’s story is what holds value, and I am confident that these young people, though perhaps intimidated by the writing process, are capable of capturing the spirit of intercultural ethics through the words that they share. Through visits to the Youth Café at the Irish Refugee Council and individualized writing workshops, I hope to successfully communicate to young Irish residents of all backgrounds the power their voices hold. Theirs are the stories I want to know; theirs is the Ireland I want to explore.
Pride is Here
I am walking past the Rotunda Hospital on Parnell Square, heading north. The Garden of Remembrance is on my right, a monument to those who struggled for Irish Independence in the early 20th century. A man dances past me, his torso covered only by a silk, rainbow-colored cape. Further down the street, I see young men and women surrounding a parked car where an older woman stands at an open trunk distributing t-shirts. The shirts say, in capital block letters, “LOVE = LOVE.”
I can see the floats now. They are parked, but soon they will be the centerpieces of the parade that follows. A bus sports the insignia of the Red Cross. I recognize a banner representing an LGBTQ support system for migrant youth, the population I am working with this summer. A van has a phone number advertised on both sides. It is the suicide hotline. It is easy to forget that the exuberant faces surrounding me belong to one of the most at-risk demographics for self-harm. To my left, a balloon is being inflated. I can see what looks to be the Google logo as it grows larger. The fully inflated balloon looks like a location pin from Google Maps, and in its center a message is written.
The Garden of Remembrance is at my back. The suicide hotline van drives out of my periphery to the right, and before me I see the words:
Pride is here.
I am freezing cold. A few minutes ago I jumped into the frigid Atlantic Ocean at the Forty Foot, a swimming hole in the southern town of Sandycove. Now, I am on my way back to the train station. A woman walking her dog stops me.
“Where you headed?”
Back to the city center.
“Oh you simply must visit the festival!”
I turn up from the strand and walk to the center of town. Music wanders down the narrow roads and in my head harmonizes with the crashing waves and gusting winds behind me. I follow the sound, seeing on my way a myriad of people, some families, some alone, dressed in the style of 120 years ago. A man, with ashplant in hand, strolls up, tipping his hat and straightening his coat.
What’s going on?
“Why, it’s Bloomsday of course.”
Bloomsday is a national holiday. It is celebrated on the 16th of June ever year, commemorating the novel Ulysses by James Joyce. The adventures of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist, are considered essential to a proper understanding of Irish identity in Dublin, the man tells me. Later, I pass through a polish farmers’ market on my way home from Pearse Station.
Pride is here.
“Hurling is the oldest and fastest game in the world. We played it before the pyramids were constructed.” A balding man swings an axe shaped stick before me. I am in the equipment room of Na Fianna, one of the larger Gaelic Game clubs in Dublin. “The Gaelic games’ original purpose was to train warriors. There are few injuries because self-defense is central to all the game’s principles.” He plays a clip on the television, narrating what happens while explaining the rules. He pauses and becomes serious. The refugee to my left is as enthralled with the presentation as I am.
“Make no mistake. You must not think of the games as you think of other sports. The Gaelic games are central to every aspect of Irish life.” Images flash of crowds gathering, dancing, playing, and merry-making. “Throughout history, oppressors have tried to stop the Irish from gathering to play their games, as late as just under 100 years ago in 1920, when the British outlawed the sports.”
I am excited to start playing, and as I walk through the hall leading to the fields, I see the pictures of all Na Fianna’s champions lining the walls. I remember the man’s words. “The games are entirely tribal. You represent the area you grew up in. There is no greater honor a young Irish man or woman can achieve than representing their county in the All-Ireland Tournament.”
Pride is here.
The Irish are nothing if not a proud people, but their pride comes at the cost of centuries of oppression, suffering, and adversity. The Irish of today have inherited the resolute spirit that has allowed them to persist, but today’s Ireland is not the white, Catholic country it once was. As Ireland affirms its position as a great melting pot in the world, cultures from around Europe and beyond come together to build its new identity. But the glue that holds together this kaleidoscopic quilt of culture is a pride rooted not in extreme nationalism, but in the bond that forms from facing hardships together and a powerfully evocative empathy for the challenges faces by others.
Pride is here. Pride is Ireland.
Black Lives Matter in Dublin, Too
Refugees are often marked out in Ireland by a simple factor – that of the color of their skin. In a country full of creamy complexions and blue eyes, any difference in appearance easily symbolizes being an outsider – with this in mind, I marched to the Black Lives Matter solidarity event being held under the Spire in Dublin’s city center, eager to see how old and new Irish voices traversed and related to the civil rights movement in America.
Standing in the midst of the crowd, a hand tapped on my back – “Razan?”
I turned around, and saw her – a schoolmate of mine from Sudan and fellow alum of an international high school, standing in front of me in the middle of Dublin after four years. And that moment – of two Sudani-raised girls, one living in the US and the other with family in Ireland, standing together in mutual recognition of how black lives are devalued in myriad ways around the world – is the multiplicity that birthed the truths that were spoken at that rally under the Spire.
What stood out to me at the Black Lives Matter event was the intimate connection that was made between being Irish and recognizing wrongs perpetuated against others who have been classically marginalized. Flyers passionately reminded attendees of the class struggle in Ireland being the same structures that black people in the U.S. are fighting. Speakers quoted Kipling – albeit with tongue-in-cheek rephrasing – to ground their passion in older words. Refugees spoke to the importance of Ireland having the chance to relate to the stories of asylum seekers and migrants, and to be an example for the rest of the world rather than to be looked back on as a failure.
To stand with the sun behind us on Parnell Square, and hear the words “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” became no repeated cliché. The meaning of those words was what created the refugees standing and encouraging us to stand against racism in Ireland itself, and not let ourselves wait until we experienced the problems of France – it was what gave a collection of Duke students the ability to come abroad to Dublin for the summer – and it was what made us all meet on that day.
Being able to treat lives equally and see where they are not equally treated lets one see the connections found in everyday moments around us. An office discussion of a holiday in Nice becomes born of the same thread as a midnight coup in Turkey. A chance conversation with a Sudanese refugee becomes a direct confrontation of how the politics of “back home” cause the pain of a tall man limping in front of me on a cloudy day. Old bullet holes around St. Stephen’s Green become reminders of the violence that all too easily still accompanies societal change around the world. And the stories of how others have had slurs yelled at them on the streets, becomes a grateful reminder of the “Happy Eid” yelled at me.
Walking away from the rally, the world felt both very small and very hopeful – one where injustices are so widespread, but the people who rally against them have solidarities that are just as widespread. If I could leave Ireland having learned a new story to tell, it would be that of the Black Lives Matter rally and the people who made it happen.
The Irony of an American Answering the Phone
When I answer the phone at my placement, I often see the irony in how strange it is for an American to help migrants apply for Irish citizenship. The first time I sat at the main desk and answered the phone, the caller, too, realized that contradiction. After I gave the standard spiel “NCP Citizenship Application Support Service, John speaking,” I must have had such a surprising American accent, that he did not even respond to me—he thought I was an automation. Confused at the silence on the line, I asked, “Hello? This is John?” He laughed and replied, “Sorry, thought you were a recording. Now John, what country are you in?” “Ireland, but I am from the U.S.” “This is an Irish citizenship support service, right?” I affirmed that I was in fact there to help him with his application, and I think the irony struck both of us even more when I gave him the specifics of how having different stamps would affect his residency requirement. After I hung up the phone, I could not help but burst out laughing.
In many ways, my placement is not what I had anticipated it would be. Back home, I had no understanding of the complexity involved in attaining Irish citizenship. Equally surprising, I did not expect this complex process and the uniqueness of each client’s case to be the reason I loved going to the office each day. As one of the most potent examples of this, a lady who travels regularly as a result of her job came into our office this past week to ask if she was eligible for citizenship. She has been living in Ireland for the required five years; however, as I soon realized, her frequent travels could count against her, lowering her residency below five years and resulting in a denial of her application.
For her, an approved application would mean that she would no longer need to purchase visas to travel or residency stamps, avoiding a lot of hassle. However, a failed application would result in a lost 175 euro and another year before she could apply again, all of which might be avoided if she just waited to apply six months from now. This conundrum made her decision all the more difficult, because she could not be certain of the outcome if she applied now.
Approval depends on so many factors outside of an applicant’s direct control. It depends on her letter from her employer and whether it could explain her travel time. It depends on the immigration officer who would read her application and interpret her letters and proofs. It even depends on what an employer she worked for over three years ago says about the extent to which she travelled during her time there. The uncertainty is stressful for an applicant, and it challenges me to proceed in a way that balances her worries with the realities of the process. As an advisor, this is exciting for me, as I feel like I can have a small effect in whether she gets her Irish passport—and likewise her EU citizenship—an entire year earlier than she might otherwise.
All of these intricacies and the lack of a definitive answer make it challenging to advise an applicant in such a scenario. There is no set answer, no specific way for me to tell her whether her application will be accepted or not. Ultimately, I could only give her a rough percentage on which to base the bet of her application fee and effort. I always have the base case in mind of how to complete the application form and explain the requirements for citizenship. But every time an applicant walks through our office’s doors, my training becomes only a set of rough guidelines, because the person I now face has unique emotions and realities—more than just a page in a handbook. To do a good job, I have to empathize with the applicants I aid. In a way, this is about as human of a job as one could ever have.
I expected Dublin to be vastly different from what I knew back in the US, but now I realize that, despite some differences in the specifics, our people share a spirit of goodwill towards others. This spirit is evident in the people of my native city, Pittsburgh, and my newest home, Dublin. I see this spirit of caring for others every day in my placement. My coworkers have it and strive to help our clients as much as possible, and our clients have it, in that they want to become fully immersed in Ireland, as citizens.
In the beginning, I often wondered how I, exposed to the details of Irish citizenship less than a month ago, am qualified to advise migrants who have been living in Ireland for over five years. Now I know that through sharing that bond of caring and continuing to hear the migrants’ and Dublin’s stories, I am fit to answer their call.
The Democracy of Social Media
BREAKING NEWS: DukeEngage Student Discovers That He Takes Something for Granted!
I teach young people at a school for refugee and immigrant youth, most of whom are in Ireland without parents or guardians. Their routes to Dublin vary; many are smuggled in from the Middle East while others have been rescued from trafficking circles originating in Eastern Europe or South America. Regardless of their background, they are all bursting with a unique resilience and an enthusiasm for learning that rivals some Duke students, despite the fact that many of them have never attended regular school before. They’re just happy to be here and their optimism is admirable.
My role as a teacher is interesting. Monday to Thursday, I’m really more of a TA and a friend to them as I help them work through math/English worksheets, accompany them on trips to rural Ireland to go canoeing, or show them how to play basketball. However, on Fridays, I get to take more of a driver’s seat and teach a class of my own design. I decided, for reasons I’ll elaborate on below, to teach a class on social media and videography.
This proved to be much more complicated than I originally anticipated. There are very strict laws in Ireland about photographing refugees, especially those under 18 years old. They’re an understandably vulnerable population, so teaching a class where cameras are explicitly involved proved to be tricky waters to navigate. I was initially inclined to do a complete 180 and change class subjects upon discovering this, but after lots of reflection and talking to my supervisors and DukeEngage coordinator, I decided to persist.
My work at Duke had much to do with my decision to continue with videography. At Duke I’m paid to help manage the @dukestudents social media channels. In doing so, I’ve developed a deep respect for the potential of these media to connect all of us together. Platforms like Snapchat and Instagram have incredibly immersive powers, making it possible to broadcast every element of your life to your ‘friends.’ Both prospective students in China and alumni in South Africa alike are able to view Duke as a beautiful wonderland, full of diverse and passionate people.
Most of the young people I work with are not in a place in life right now that they can effectively use social media. However, my ‘@dukestudents’ experience prompted me to keep with the class because I have come to realize that these skills are quintessential to being a member of the 21st century. It should be a right and a privilege to be able to post photos to our heart’s content as a form of both expression and of record keeping. Previous generations criticize mine for our seeming lack of privacy, but I’m sure many older adults wish that they had pictures and videos from their childhood and 20s as readily available as we do.
Additionally, because so many of these young people come from such fragmented families, separated often times by whole oceans and continents, Snapchat and other platforms may eventually provide an incredible communication channel between separated individuals. If the youth I work with here are somehow able to get in contact with friends from wherever home is, they don’t have to rely on simply describing different cultures, like Ireland’s. Instead, using the power of just a smartphone camera and an email address, they can show them. Having a diplomat for a dad meant that I moved every two or three years growing up, but I was fortunate to have technology to help my friends I left understand the new things I was getting to experience. I only wish my students could have modes of communication at least as good as mine.
I want these young people to have the same opportunities as us. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are fundamental rights. Just like we need basic literacy to read, write and speak in the first place, so do we need social media literacy to effectively communicate and self-express in 2016. When the young people achieve English proficiency to enable them to matriculate into regular Irish schools, they shouldn’t be blindsided by a young population that has been saturated with smartphones and constant connection to internet from birth.
We are aware—I hope—of how much we take our educational opportunities, safety, and general standard of living for granted. When I came to Dublin I was genuinely surprised to realize the importance of teaching social media, something I used to think was just a way of feeding one’s own ego.
As a Jewish, white, Los Angelino woman with skin dark enough to look like I could belong to most ethnicities, I often receive the question: “what are you?” Growing up, I would walk through airports or travel to new places and have all sorts of people approach me and ask me questions in different languages (Spanish, Hebrew, Italian, etc.), assuming that I shared their nationality or ethnicity. Despite my childhood frustrations at the awkwardness of feeling like I’d disappointed a stranger by being a monolingual American, I have come to see a great beauty in this trait. Almost everywhere I’ve traveled, I’ve had the privilege of looking like I could belong to any number of communities, and thus I am not typically treated with hostility. Instead, I am met with curious looks as locals try to puzzle out my ethnic, racial, and religious identities, and then often with smiles as people comfortably assume I must be, in some way, similar to them.
On my first day of work at Cairde, this pattern repeated itself. A Romanian man walked in to the advocacy center, the part of the office in which I work, and was talking to some of my colleagues as I did the reading my advisor assigned me. I cheerfully waved hello, and at one point joined the conversation. From him, I received two identifiers. The first was when, upon hearing me speak, he said something along the lines of: “ah yes, I knew you were from the States before you even spoke.” Typically, being an American abroad is a bad thing, and so as I tried to explain that I was not a gun-toting stereotype, he surprised me by saying something I had never heard before: “It’s a good thing, I could tell by how much energy you had and how you greeted me and by how hard you’ve been working over there.”
I was nothing short of shocked. I answered with an expression of that astonishment, and we went back and forth about whether or not being from the States is typically perceived as a “good thing” until he finally asked the series of questions that I was really waiting for, and the series of questions that I have been asked countless times by clients and passersby in Ireland. With him, and with most people, the series of questions unfolds like so:
Him: “So where exactly are you from?”
Me (confused, because we had gone over this, and wondering if he was trying to ask about my ethnicity): “Um… the States?”
Him: “No, but where are you from, from?”
Me (still confused): “California?”
Him: “No like where are your parents from?”
Me: “They’re also from the States. And my grandparents are from the States. Are you trying to ask about my ethnicity?”
Him: “Yes exactly, where are your ancestors from?”
Me: “Poland, Russia, and Austria.”
Him: “Really? Nowhere else? ”
It’s hard to imagine that my ancestry is so important that it’s worth such conversational awkwardness and circuitousness. It’s also hard for me to imagine exactly why my ancestry is important at all when I personally feel so disconnected from it. This isn’t because of any active choice to separate myself from my “origins,” but because all of my grandparents, and even some of my great-grandparents, were born in the U.S. I was raised American, with our family traditions of celebrating Jewish holidays as my biggest connector to my roots.
It can be very frustrating to have people assume that my heritage is a fundamental determinant of my identity. Whether I like it or not, and regardless of how long my family has been in the U.S., I identify as an American before I identify with any other culture, nationality, or the like. I think when I answer inquiries about where I’m from by saying “the States,” others should accept that as my national identity instead of assuming that there must be some other, important identity that I’m hiding, and must be discovered to understand me.
I also think that I am immensely privileged because if people choose to base my identity on my Eastern European heritage rather than on my view of myself as American, the impact on my life is far from catastrophic. For the migrants and ethnic minorities with whom I work every day in the office, the color of their skin or their accents (if they are first generation migrants) have much larger consequences. For the ethnic minorities who live in Ireland, and see the fact that they are Irish as their primary identity, being assigned an alternative identity and treated in kind seems painfully difficult to handle. It creates an unwanted dissonance between their conceptions of themselves as active members of Irish society, and of their treatment as outsiders.
At Cairde every day, many clients seek help claiming an Irish identity. They seek Irish jobs, Irish legal status, benefits of Irish medical cards, but more than anything they seem to seek the normalcy that the privilege of being identified as Irish could bring to their lives. Often, they struggle to navigate the consequences of the foreign identities projected onto them by racist shopkeepers and hostile security guards. When they come into the office searching for whatever services they need, they can bring with them a dissipating faith in a country that is failing to accept them. This week, when my coworker asked an Iranian refugee where he was from, the man was immediately furious. He started shouting about the fact that all that mattered to anyone was that he was Muslim. As a consequence of being identified as Muslim and Middle-Eastern, he had been beaten by police officers, suffering in Direct Provision, and angered by the every day racism he faced. And he spoke of how frustrated he was because he was struggling with his Muslim identity, and only wanted to belong, to be treated as Irish.
Projections of identity can put people into an unwanted box. It strips them down from a whole person into an ethnic identity, both stripping them of individual sets of hopes, dreams, chosen affiliations, and so on and ascribing to them stereotypical sets of the same thing. It takes away their own personal truths, and replaces it with a pernicious alternative: that of the falsified “truths” of stereotypes, of stigma, of ingrained prejudice. Even if stereotypes are not universally degrading and can at times even be positive, the pain that stereotypes can bring via prejudice seems to have a much more profound impact upon the stereotyped than the rare positives. In sum, projecting an identity onto another deprives them of their personhood. It gives someone a space to characterize me in terms that contradict how I conceptualize myself, and do the same to any number of ethnic minorities in Ireland.
This experience is challenging me to push past typical conceptualizations of identity, and means by which to identify others, in ways that did not occur to me before. And while I hope that I have never projected an identity in a manner so harmful as what I have seen while I am here, I can never know what my unconscious actions have done to another. It is clear, though, that in the Irish context – one of mass migration, of a relatively newfound convergence of cultures – this issue is actively damaging the lives of migrants and minorities attempting to make this place their new home.
Determining Best Interest
“I want to go back to Afghanistan, and I want to be a doctor there, but a doctor that people can afford to pay for”
This answer, given to me when I was speaking about the future with one of the asylum seeking children I work with at my social work team, shocked me a bit. It made sense to me that a child would want to be reunited with his family at some point in his/her home country, but this boy’s story was quite different. This statement was coming from a boy who had experienced intense violence in his country of origin and had finally found a safe haven here in Ireland. He had no family left in Afghanistan, his only tie to the place being the years of his childhood he had spent there.
As the conversation progressed, he explained, “I am happy in Ireland, but my heart is still sad.” In his mind, his time in Ireland so far has been a blessing, but it did nothing to erase what had happened to him in the past. A fresh start was nice, but forgetting about his past, which included his family, friends, and so much more than the violence and exploitation near the end of his time there, was not an option. For him to truly reconcile with his past, he felt he needed to return to Afghanistan in the future, whether it be safe or not, to make as much of a difference as he could. His life may be much better here in Dublin than it was at the time he was forced to leave, but his connection with Afghanistan still stands and will continue to stand for the remainder of his life.
This conversation is one of many that reminded me of the dangers of placing a child in a foster family and simply giving him/her a “fresh start.” Yes, most of the time a fresh start is much needed, but the past cannot be ignored. Although it is incredibly important for a child to be focused on adapting to Ireland, a strong effort should always be made to understand a child’s individual circumstances and desires.
Across Europe, child care has focused mainly on adaptation and transitioning a child to a new life. A child’s situation is generally assessed and future determined independent of input from the child, just assuming the best interest of the child is to start over or following a set of legislation that is said to guide a child’s best interest. The social work team for separated children I work for here in Ireland, though, approaches the matter of best interest a little differently. We work with each child in our service directly to develop a plan for their future with a strong emphasis on the child’s wishes for the future and the specific path a child’s life has followed to this point. For example, some children are ready to apply for asylum as soon as they arrive, while others are not yet ready to navigate the process. Likewise, some young people can handle living on their own as soon as they turn eighteen, but others require additional support. In regards to family reunification, some children may want to contact their families and reunite as soon as possible, others may worry contacting their families would put them or their family at risk, and still some others aren’t at all interested in reconnecting. Every child has a unique story and has faced different circumstances, which must be taken into account when a child’s future is mapped out.
Our approach, from what I’ve seen so far during my time here, seems to be the only way to truly determine a child’s best interest. A child’s thoughts about the future are the most important part of a best interest determination, but a part that is so often ignored. Children have such different desires for the future and have faced such different circumstances that it is impossible for a social worker to know what is best from guidelines in legislation or their own experience. I’ve learned that if the goal is maximizing the efficacy and feasibility of a child’s care plan for the future, the child’s voice must be given as much weight as possible given his/her age and maturity level.
Most of the time, a child is here in the first place as a result of choicelessness, and there’s no reason to continue the trend. How can you expect a child to go on live a happy, fulfilling life if he/she has no say in determining the direction his/her life and his/her care plan is not unique to his/her individual circumstances? When determining whether a child is ready to apply for asylum, move to independent accommodation, or reunify with his/her family, the child’s voice and unique experiences must be given primary consideration.
Tough Times Don’t Last – Tough People Do
“Why can’t we at least go somewhere where I can talk to people?” exclaims Elizabeth to her parents in Flight, a 2014 novel about four travelers whose journeys intersect one winter in Dublin. In this passage, ‘Lizzy’ is a twelve-year-old Irish girl happily living in a Connecticut suburb with friends and a future before her parents decide to uproot their family and move to postwar Vietnam to exploit the luxury pepper market.
I can empathize with Lizzy’s predicament and the contempt she feels towards her business-minded father for forcing them to move. My dad was a diplomat, so growing up I was jumping from country to country every two or three years. Reading Flight awakened a strong sense of déjà vu. I found myself circling entire paragraphs and writing “exactly!!!” in the margins for almost an entire chapter. The author, Oona Frawley, nails everything from Lizzy pleading with her parents to let her go to boarding school instead, to the goodbye dinners at TGI Fridays, and finally to a plane ride that can only be described as ‘a flight of tears.’
It’s tough in the moment, but Lizzy of course goes on to lead an enriching life, growing as a person in a very foreign Vietnam and elsewhere. I also like to think that I personally benefitted from a nomadic upbringing, and until this summer have prided myself on resilience as much as anything else.
But the students at the school I teach have made me realize that there’s a whole level of resilience that I can probably never come close to comprehending. They too have been uprooted and immersed into a culture with an unfamiliar language and people. The difference is that they have done this without their families. At least when I changed locations, my parents and my sister were the one constant, sticking with me all the way up until I left for Duke.
The young people at my school didn’t have flights of tears, they had boat rides of tears alone in some dark cargo hold all the way from the Eastern parts of the Mediterranean. They arrived in Dublin with nobody to help them make sense of this strange new world they have just walked into.
But three days after they’ve started at school, you would have no idea that this is the horror story they’re living. They throw themselves relentlessly and recklessly into their academics. They dedicate themselves to learning drums or handcuff themselves to the foosball table until they emerge victorious. They are polite and they participate in class, thirsty for knowledge of the grammatical tools and vocabulary necessary to string together an English sentence. Everything they do is done with the intent of bettering their own lives so that they can one day maybe help their families.
But the part of their resilience that most impresses me is their ability to live in the now. It’s evident that they rarely dwell on the past, and they are seizing the opportunity that Ireland presents to better their family’s future. Yet despite their lofty goals and dreams, I’ve never seen a group of students so capable of having fun.
On the day of their graduation, they somehow found the energy for a 5.5-hour dance party. While the ceremony was slated to start at 11 a.m., they were at the school swinging away to Justin Bieber’s latest hits by 9:30. A brief 90-minute intermission for a ceremony, in which all of their videos, poems, and songs were showcased, was just enough rest for them to rally for another three hours of partying. It was a beautiful sight to see students from all over dance, with the Bolivian girls teaching salsa to Enrique Iglesias songs after each Silva Gunbardhi track that the Afghani boys loved. Even cooler was watching an Albanian student who had been at the school for awhile know the choruses to songs in both Spanish and Pashto by heart.
They have all come from difficult backstories but still manage to be both kids and adults at the same time. They work hard and play hard in the best possible way, proving to me again and again that tough times don’t last, tough people do.
Integration: Where Does the Government Fit In?
Integration. It’s a word people in the refugee sector throw around a lot. “We need to integrate people into Irish society.” But what does it mean to be Irish, besides a love of potatoes and whiskey? In America, we have adjectives for everything: African American, Asian American, Italian American. And somehow, that seems okay, because America is a nation of immigrants. Everyone is some kind of American—even Native Americans. But the Irish don’t have to stop and define what it means to be Irish in the same way that Americans do, because their nationality is defined by their race. Indeed, Irish-ness is not just born of geography; it runs in people’s blood, and that’s why it’s so hard to define the terms for integration. Can an African immigrant ever become Irish? Is a black child born in Ireland an Irish child or an African child? In America, such questions have more obvious answers, but in Ireland, they are much more complicated.
Working at the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), I hear a lot of criticism on the integration front, with people claiming that asylum seekers have been isolated from Irish society and “left in limbo,” unable to integrate. On the other hand, integration is also in conflict with multiculturalism and cultural awareness. There are Dubliners who look at the burka-wearing women on the North side and feel uncomfortable. The average person might look at the multicultural menus in direct provision centers and think, “Well, why can’t these people learn to eat long-grain rice instead of Basmati?” The underlying question is: How can one be Irish without looking, acting, or eating exactly like us?
It’s going to take generations to answer this question. And yet NGOs are demanding government integration programs right now, as if by handing asylum seekers a book and enrolling them in a class we can turn them into typical Irish citizens. Moreover, over ninety percent of asylum seekers won’t even be given status to remain; what’s the point in integrating people into society only to hand them deportation papers a couple of years later? We are the Reception and Integration Agency; presumably, we are supposed to be doing both, and yet we must ask ourselves, who needs to be integrated, and how?
I would argue that asylum seekers, as migrants without any legal status, are supposed to be “in limbo.” That’s what it means when your asylum application is being processed. And now that the asylum application has been streamlined to not exceed eight months, there is no point in integrating people until they have been given a decision. Besides, integrating a person who has not yet been granted status only strengthens their argument for humanitarian leave to remain. Once a person has put down roots in the Irish community, raised children with Irish accents, it seems cruel to eject them from the country.
Despite the obvious perils of integration, the government has made a significant effort to integrate asylum seekers into the Irish community. No, it doesn’t come in the form of citizenship classes, like some suggest. One must remember that the Irish value system, enshrined in its Constitution, centers on the family. The government’s view of integration, in turn, begins with children, who are integrated into the Irish school system. Children absorb culture like they absorb language: with ease. Direct provision centers like the one in Athlone offer numerous programs for children, from cooking classes to summertime preparation for children transitioning into secondary school. Parents, in turn, are forced to integrate into Irish society in order to keep pace with their children.
The right to work as a method of integration for adults should not be implemented since it would be a “pull” factor for single males who have no legitimate claim for asylum to enter the country, simply to work for as long as possible until they are deported. Sure, it might be coldhearted to deny legitimate asylum seekers the right to work in order to stop others from coming, but the government has to do what is in the best interest of its constituents, and, ultimately, the asylum seekers as well. When floods of migrants enter the asylum process, it only increases the burden on the government and increases the time it takes to process everyone’s asylum applications. The awful truth is, the government has to wade through scores of false claims before it finds a genuine one, and by then, the adjudicators are so jaded that every application they read seems like fiction. I think the factors that pull people into Ireland need to be carefully monitored and restricted so that only people who need to flee their countries of origin arrive here seeking asylum. Only then can the system be repaired so that it serves the people it is meant to serve.
On Integrating New Voices
Hoping to fully immerse myself in Irish intercultural conversations, throughout my time in Dublin, I found myself constantly searching for opportunities to heighten my understanding of local refugee, migrant, and asylum seeking communities. Working with Metro Éireann proved quite beneficial in this regard, as I would provide multicultural media coverage on such events regularly, which offered me the chance to both observe the actions of attendees and engage in conversations with organizers through interviews. Attending these events simultaneously granted me an understanding of the passion-fueled resilience and idealistic ignorance of those whose voices are currently present in discussions on Dublin’s refugee, migrant, and asylum seeking communities.
No Borders Theatre: A Night of Migrant Solidarity, a theatre event at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre raising funds for Ireland Calais Refugee Society, encouraged both typical theatre-goers and humanitarians to join together for a question and answer session about the productions’ volunteer actors, directors, and writers’ interpretation of issues connected to war and displacement. As questions were posed for this Cork-based theatre group, many audience members reflected on the direct provision system, largely in reaction to “The Cage” a dramatic reading written by artistic director John Hayes from the perspective of a man who spent eight years in a direct provision center. As the character in this performance mulled over his relation to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he began asking himself, “What am I? An application? A piece of paper? Am I not a man?” Such introspection clearly appealed to audience members’ pathos as, during the question and answer session, many voiced that, although they came to the production as regular theatregoers with little to no background in humanitarian work, they desired to further explore the intricacies of the direct provision system as a result of the piece. However, surrounded by socially concerned, eleemosynary-minded individuals who touted the End Direct Provision campaign as Ireland’s only option in improving conditions for asylum seekers, these theater-goers were offered little room to develop their own understanding of the issues on which they were encouraged to ruminate. If those firmly rooted in the refugee/migrant/asylum seeking sector neglect to offer newcomers entry into related intercultural dialogue, I fear that discussions surrounding dynamic issues in Irish interculturalism will teeter towards a stagnant state; after all, new perspectives are necessary to continue fueling such conversation, allowing individuals to explore various possibilities that could mitigate problems connected to direct provision.
Several days after attending No Borders Theatre, at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dublin’s city center, I once more heard impassioned dialogue on problems related to the current direct provision system; however, even in a different location and with more attendees than the aforementioned event, the opinions voiced were quite literally the same, as many of the self-described humanitarians at the theatre production were once again in attendance. Witnessing these overlaps, I better grasped how devoted these individuals were to reducing issues surrounding direct provision. While this is certainly admirable, I still found myself wondering how more voices could be included in discussions surrounding refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers in Ireland.
Luckily, it appears that newcomers to such conversations are striving to find their place in this dialogue. Through taking part in the European Youth in Migration’s weekly Youth Café gatherings at the Irish Refugee Council, I discovered that institutions traditionally reserved for middle to upper class white Irish citizens are making efforts to join in these exchanges. At one such Youth Café meeting, representatives from Trinity College Dublin Science Gallery and MAKESHOP detailed the manner in which they want young people transitioning to life in Ireland to engage with their facilities in the same manner as the native Irish, explaining their efforts to implement new programming that would make their facilities more accessible to young people of diverse backgrounds. These representatives understood that, with Ireland’s recent cultural shifts, the conversations in which their institutions immerse themselves could not remain planted in the past. Hopefully impassioned humanitarians will allow for such institutions to enter into these conversations in a way that maintains the integrity of their beliefs, granting new perspectives with the chance to be heard in order to form new ideas instead of continuing to repeat the same never-changing arguments.
In 2016, one-hundred years after the Easter Rising, Ireland has ostensibly reflected on its past extensively; one may think the purpose of this looking back is to look forward, but in order to look forward into a continually diversifying nation, a more nuanced understanding of both past and present is necessary. Instead of maintaining a focus on the same white male Catholic heroes, it is time to explore the lesser known narratives: paving the way for a proliferation in intercultural dialogue, Irish residents must consider the intercultural dimensions of their history in order to better understand the steady increase in dynamic multiculturalism that their nation is experiencing. In a country with no history of slavery, why be enslaved to past dialogues?