2015 DukeEngage Letters Home


During the summer of 2015, 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.

From Emigrants to Immigrants

01 JP picRemember Aunt Molly?
By JP Thomas

“The Irish did this first. Remember Aunt Molly sending her 12 and 16 year old children off to the States to work? Now how are these African kids any different? We have to treat them just the way we expected to be treated. We showed the world how to immigrate!”

Coming to Dublin as a rising Duke University junior, I didn’t know what to expect. What would Dublin be like? Who are Dubliners? The classic pub patrons portrayed by James Joyce, or something completely different? Would I even be able to help at work? Or just be a burden and the loud American stereotype?

As part of the Duke Engage program, my fellow classmates and I are living in the heart of Dublin. My fellow Duke students range from first year to third years and from engineers to creative writing majors, but all have a common interest in refugee affairs around the world. Duke has given us the opportunity to work at different placements around Dublin to learn about the migrant and refugee population in Ireland.

I am placed with the social workers for Separated Children Seeking Asylum, a part of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. My workplace is incredibly diverse. These social workers come from as far as Australia and as close as North Dublin, with Canada, America, and Zimbabwe all along the way. I feel like I have already experienced and learned so much about the Irish migration system, from the failures of direct provision to the Anglo-Irish policy on family reunification. But I still have so much to learn, and in reality, have barely scraped the surface of the struggle of asylum seekers.

Separated children are defined in our work as “children under eighteen years of age who are outside their country of origin, who have applied for asylum and are separated from their parents or their legal/customary care giver.” These children often have high levels of vulnerability and have experienced numerous traumas. Language barriers are often the simplest problem to fix, but what’s harder to address are the separation issues, bereavement from family and friends, mental health problems, social isolation, and racism.

Although separated children seeking asylum in Ireland may seem like an obscure group that needs little resources, as each day passes, I realize how at-risk these kids are. The Irish asylum system can stick children in a cycle of apathy, lethargy and depression. Adjusting from American to Irish culture is hard enough, but imagine being unable to communicate, trapped in migration procedures and worried everyday about your future to work and make a living for yourself. It becomes even more difficult when these kids, scared to enter the adult world, are pushed from residential homes or foster homes out into the real world at the age of 18.

Because of recent policy changes by the Irish leadership, social workers have been able to provide more support to refugees after they turn 18. In our office, its called After Care. Now, the social workers’ mission has changed, and many resources are given to vulnerable young adults. Much of the work done by social workers helps children transition into adulthood. My coworkers’ dedication and patience with young adults is an inspiration. I have learned the importance of persistence, restraint and tolerance, being able to take what you are given, moving on and making the best of the situation. Whether that means moving on from lost travel documents, forgiving a child who has lied to you time and time again or just finding the best in people when they make mistakes.

The social workers working for Separated Children Seeking Asylum should be known and recognized as a great service for helping young people, and providing beneficial interventions for a vulnerable group of asylum seekers. I know I will learn a lot from these humble people, but my hope and struggle for this summer exists in being able to leave a mark. This placement has already had an impact on me, so I hope I can leave something valuable in return.

Every day I learn more and more about how little I know about the American migration system. As an American, I have come to Ireland to learn about the inefficiencies and systems to help refugees in Dublin, but I have no comparisons in my own country. Refugees and resettlement are rarely an issue in the United States, we only argue about “The Border,” a border between the United States and Mexico. Migration issues to me are so much more than that. They should be discussed in terms of acceptance, bilateral benefits, and diversity, not in terms of terrorism, stereotypes and segregation.

If my two weeks in Dublin have taught me anything, it is how far behind the United States is in open-mindedness. For example, this past week it took a close vote from nine stuffy judges in the mahogany laced quarters of the Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage in the States, where in Ireland more than 60 percent of the population enthusiastically passed it in a national referendum. How important is tradition? I question, should Americans keep freedoms from both homosexuals and migrants for the sake of tradition? How do we want the rest of the world to view us? Certainly not as racists, right? As isolationist? No. Or as a people, like the Irish, that recognizes our immigrant roots and realizes that we would be nothing without them.

English with No Accent

02 Ethan YuEnglish with No Accent
By Ethan Yu

I was placing my order for lunch after a fruitful morning of work at the New Communities Partnership (NCP) office on the north side of Dublin: “I’d like the Chicken Tikka sandwich please.”

“Ok,” answered the sandwich maker. “I have a question for you: why can you speak English with no accent?”

This question really surprised me. In my entire life, I had never been asked such a question. Usually people asked what Asian ethnicity I am, whether I can speak an Asian language, or whether I identify as an Asian or as an American. I have never been questioned about my English.

“I’m an American,” I explained. She still looked baffled. “I was born and raised in America, the States,” I clarified, “but my parents are from China.”

Apparently, this answer was acceptable. She happily smiled, nodded, and continued to make my sandwich. Even though this conversation might seem harmless, it embodied a preconceived set of notions that those that do not look white cannot speak English well. The idea of a non-white, non-Irish, and non-Catholic person speaking without a thick accent seemed like an alien concept to her. In retrospect, this lack of cultural understanding may be due to the nature of Ireland’s long historic roots as an emigrant country.

Even before the potato famine of 1845, the Irish have always been emigrating out of the country. But recently, people have begun immigrating to Ireland due to the variety of economic opportunities that have blossomed in the past few decades. Thus Ireland has begun experiencing an influx of immigrants much like the US did back in the late 1800s. However, due to the lack of cultural diversity and heritage, many natives assume those of different races to be new immigrants.

As part of the DukeEngage Dublin program, my fellow Duke students and I have been staying in the city center and working in different placements to learn and understand the migrant problem that Ireland has now been facing for the past few years. I currently work at the New Communities Partnership Main office as a social media consultant and at the Citizenship Application Support Service (CASS) as an advisor. The New Communities Partnership is an organization that seeks to empower migrant communities as they assimilate into Irish culture.

To prepare us for the cultural differences, our program supervisors hosted a few meetings during the school year before we got to Dublin. They taught us about the various problems that migrants face as well as informed us of the different customs that the Irish have, ranging from not wearing shorts to not running around the city streets for exercise. At the time, I was not worried: I had thought that I could easily adapt to Ireland’s white, catholic population as I come from a state that’s 96.7% white. The lack of diversity would not faze me. However, I was proved wrong within two weeks of my stay. Even the meetings could not have prepared me for what I did not expect: contrasting cultural values. However, I don’t believe that these cultural values are here to stay.

The interactions with the sandwich making lady really got my wheels turning. How is it that cultural insensitivity towards different people continues to persist even in a modern first world country such as Ireland? Even though technology has helped connect many people around the world, how is it that cultural stereotypes are still propagated? Will it be possible for the migrant children who are raised in Ireland to proudly call themselves Irish without a few raised eyebrows?

I believe that as the immigration of different people from all parts of the world such as Africa and Asia into Ireland becomes more commonplace, the cultural make-up of the country will soon begin to resemble that of the US. As the generations move along, soon it won’t be so uncommon for people of different colors and backgrounds to speak English well. People of a variety of backgrounds will be able to proudly say that they’re from Ireland even though they may not fit the Irish white catholic stereotype.

My experiences in Dublin have in different ways echoed the challenges that all migrants and their descendants face in immersing themselves into Irish culture and other cultures around the world. I count myself lucky to have experienced few stereotypical interactions before I came here. However, with these eye opening occurrence, I am eager to change the way migrants are viewed in Ireland.

Educational Options

Arianna-photo-400A New Perspective on Privilege
By Arianna Price

I have always had a love/hate relationship with school. Love the feeling of accomplishment of finishing finals. Hate the nervous stomach I get before any exam. Love the school supply shopping trips each fall. Hate the homework each night. Love the realization of growth. Hate the struggle of stagnation. However, never have I labeled an emotion to the availability of schooling options in my life.

Growing up, my educational career allowed me to explore every end of the American education spectrum. My path took me from a private Hebrew academy for elementary years to a local public school for 5th grade, to my small AP exam-driven charter middle and high school experience, and finally to my large private university. I sat exams next to varying populations in varying communities, some as homogeneous as the not-so-large Jewish population of Tucson, AZ, and some as diverse as the politically and socially active student body of Duke University. As prevalent a role as education has played in my life thus far, I have never felt unique in these schooling options I explored while forging life-long friendships and preparing for my academic future.

For the past three weeks, I have volunteered at the national office of a non-governmental organization, Educate Together, which has established a multi-denominational school system within the traditionally denominational system of Ireland. Educate Together boasts the motto as follows: “Work Together to Learn Together to Live Together.” I have worked for this organization with a mission to revolutionize the Irish education system in a way that an average American student would only know as the norm. I have learned of conventions which I mistook for universally conventional. And I have lived in a culture seeing a daily struggle between historical preservation and forward-thinking adaptations. I have spent 21 days so far in the wanderlust city of Dublin, Ireland, and have found myself reflecting on elements of my own story I have yet to ponder, and realizing that in Ireland, this transcript of schools I hold is, in fact, unique.

Ireland’s primary school system is 98% denominational. This means that 2% of Ireland’s primary education is not denominational. Forgive the tautology, but this concept of option I referred to above is only available in the Irish primary school system by a number so miniscule as 2. Option isn’t an option. Parents are pawing at the opportunity to send their students to what are deemed “multi-denominational” schools in recognition of a changing Ireland. Irish citizens recognize the outdated fashion of the Catholic Church maintaining a monopoly on the education of their youth, while immigrants of all religious sectors increasingly fill their communities. With demand for such a changing Ireland to be represented in the education of the Irish youth FAR exceeding supply of multi-denominational schools, parents sit on six different lists for enrolling their 6 month old into an Educate Together school in hopes of allowing their child to experience a school system more reflective of the society of which they will become a part. Option is present, but tangible for only 2%.

This then makes me think about what options I have held in my reach, without realizing these were not tangible for all. During my undergraduate career, I have been well introduced to the concept of unrecognized privilege. The notion of coming home to a warm, cooked dinner each day after school, the fact that I have held part-time jobs out of choice rather than necessity, and the concept of my mother picking me up from school at the end of each day to discuss every detail of my academics and friendships have been re-defined in my mind as privileges rather than expectations. In my time working for Educate Together in Dublin, however, and through hearing about the work my Duke peers are doing with the refugee population in their internships here, this concept has well expanded. The fact that I have never had to apply for citizenship in order to be a recognized member of my society comes to mind. The fact that I was simply given a health insurance card by my father to carry on my person when I went off to college as an afterthought to purchasing a shower caddy for the dorm showers comes to the front of my mind as well. The fact that my summer days were spent competing in swim team championships and eating watermelon Eegee’s with friends rather than anxiously preparing to be integrated into a new school system in a foreign country, where everyone speaks a different language and no one knows my name, is hard to NOT think about now. I have led a life of tremendous unrecognized privilege, over which I had absolutely zero control. These unfathomable obstacles that I am being introduced to this summer as a Duke student are being lived by those of the refugee population on a daily basis.

Unrecognized privilege comes without explanation. I cannot tell you why I was able to attend 4 vastly different institutions in my educational path, each of which I enrolled with little struggle beyond deciding which elective courses to take, while parents in Ireland are baptizing their children in a faith not their own in order to increase their priority on a waitlist for placement in a school within a 30 minute drive of their home. I cannot tell you why I was able to switch schools seamlessly for 5th grade because my best friend decided to switch and I wanted to stay in school with her, while students in Ireland are not offered a spot after being on a waiting list for 3 years for an oversubscribed multi-denominational schooling opportunity. I cannot explain to anyone why I am the student learning about the situation while others are living it. But I can explain that recognition of privilege and the ensuing molding of one’s perspective is imperative to changing these situations – situations that desperately require change.

I have been in Dublin for three weeks now, but I have learned that, completely regardless of time, it only takes one person’s story to change your perspective. I have heard the stories of the demand for more options in schooling in this country. I have heard the stories of a family’s desire to see modern Ireland reflected in their child’s school program. I have 5 more weeks in my summer experience remaining, and I know that the extent to which my perspective will be molded will be measured not by the hours spent in this flourishing green city, but, rather, by the amazing relationships I build and stories folks share with me.

Notions of Self-Reliance

Tory-photo-400The Fabric of a Community
By Tory Trombley

“Ireland is one of the easiest places to get citizenship,” one of my colleagues at CASS, the Citizenship Application Support Service, for who I am working this summer, said to me. There is no knowledge test or even an English test, unlike the United States. Beyond requiring “good character,” as well as a duration of residency in Ireland, it is simple for a migrant or refugee to acquire citizenship. In my experience during these three weeks at CASS, as well as my time in Dublin, I can name the reason for this easy access to Irish citizenship; a strong sense of community.

During our orientation to Dublin, Ethan and I had an assignment to travel to different parts of Dublin and do “participant observation” exercises. For one of our assignments, we traveled to Phibsborough, a working class neighborhood in the north of Dublin. We sat outside at a small café, delighting in the reactions of Irish people to our American accents. This was a part of the city that did not see tourists often. When we spoke, people whipped their heads around to stare at us. Their wide eyes and questioning looks zeroed in on our strange voices.

Suddenly, a man rushed past us. He was around 40 years old, frantic and worn. He dashed, in a dizzying spiral, past our table and into the street. For all of his quick movements, his face showed that he was not aware of his actions. He was mentally ill, obviously and painstakingly confused. His disloyal feet turned underneath him, threatening to pitch his shaking body into the busy street. Ethan and I watched from our table as he fell to the ground, face first, and lay in the street. We looked at each other; we were young, afraid, outsiders. Thoughts screamed in my head, “Help him! Do anything!” but I could only watch.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two teenage boys approaching the man. One was black, with a styled mohawk that seemed to be trimmed and puffed with great care, dressed in trendy neon clothes. His companion was Indian, and he knelt first to help the man up from the street. They supported him, one on each side, as the man sweated and gasped and tried to stand. Bursts of dry air escaped my throat as I sat motionless. We watched, immobile, as the two boys helped the man into a chair on the sidewalk. Over the next 15 minutes, a young woman, a businessman, and two Garda policemen all stopped to help the man. Each asked, “Are you okay? Do you have any family? Where are your friends?” They were all concerned for his well-being.

After we left the café, and the man had left his chair to go home, whatever home was, we walked slowly down the street. We both agreed that this would not have happened like this in the US. As Americans, we feel an obligation towards independence and self-sufficiency that teaches us to be wary of those who are not self-reliant. I have no doubt that Americans are just as kind and caring as the Irish who helped the man up from the street, but to me, the sense of community in Ireland is much more apparent.

At my placement at CASS, this sense of community is evident. CASS is a part of New Communities Partnership, a collection of ethnic minority-led NGOs. At CASS, we give free citizenship application advice to anyone that needs it, including refugees, asylum seekers, students, and families. Each day, my office sees up to 40 clients that are attempting to get their Irish citizenship. As I walk people through the application and the necessary documents, I think about what these people are adding to the Irish community. A rainbow of people come in, including people from Cameroon, Georgia, Thailand, Nigeria, and Latvia. However, I know that these people do not have it easy. They come to us, sometimes hardly speaking English, to walk them through the application process. They are often unemployed, students, or have large families. I cannot imagine the hardship they have experienced, nor the bravery required overcoming it.

Yet, the sense of community that we witnessed that day vibrates through the streets of Dublin and permeates our time here. Coming from a competitive university environment, where the focus is on the individual, this exposure to the concept of inclusion and community is eye opening. If I retain one thing from this experience, I hope that it is this: the importance of supporting and accepting one another.

From Student to Teacher

Kelsey Ross-400From Student to Teacher and Back Again
By Kelsey Ross

Learning was always an expectation for me. I was expected to go to school, expected to work hard and expected to do well. So working in a school this summer you could say I knew what to, you guessed it, expect. I had spent so much of my life in a school though, that without knowing it, I had grown accustomed to learning, and in a lot of ways its luster had worn off. But spending the summer with the students at CDETB reinvigorated my excitement and gave me a new found respect for education.

For the summer I was placed at a school through the City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB), where I and other teachers taught students ranging from ages 12 to just under 18 who were either separated children or asylum seekers. The students we taught came from all over the world from places as distant as China and Swaziland to as close as Italy and Albania. They all came in with varying levels of education and English—calling them an eclectic group would be an understatement. For six weeks it was my job to work in the classrooms as a sort of teacher’s assistant. Generally, the goal of our school was to help these students prepare for a smooth transition to Irish primary school by giving them a taste of both Irish school and culture. Students had classes from 9:30-12:50 each day, learning everything from English grammar to mathematics and even life skills where they learned to assimilate to Irish culture as I tried to do the same. Our school was split into three groups, 1, 2 and 3, each group determined by the English proficiency of the students (1 being the lowest level and 3 the highest, borderline fluent). In addition to spending each day in the classroom as a TA, I was also in charge of creating my own lesson plans twice a week for groups 2 and 3, each for one hour.

Going into my first few classes, I thought I knew what I was in for. All of these kids had incredibly difficult and vastly different pasts and I assumed school would come secondary to them. How could it not with all they had been through? Growing up I had the luxury of school being my first priority. At Duke, school always comes first and is a privilege that every student has taken advantage of. I had been told stories from people who had done Teach for America saying the hardest part about teaching these kids was realizing that education for them is not as revered as it may be in let’s say, Fairfax County Public Schools. I assumed the expectation of greatness and strong work ethic would not be as prevalent here. Sitting in my first class, I immediately realized how wrong I was. Very rarely have I seen a group of students so eager for learning any and all information, especially when it came to the English language. “Teacher, teacher!” my epithet was constantly echoing in the classroom. The students were eager for knowledge and driven towards application. I thought that their lack of proficiency would be hindering, but they were so enthused by the promise of accomplishment that they were fearless in their use of a totally foreign language. This was another preconception in the classroom that I had also been incorrect on. That is, that not being able to speak the language would be demoralizing and draw away from the overall experience in school.

Dublin is a hub of activity and is constantly buzzing with foreign tongues. My fellow Duke classmates always laugh at how excited I get when I get to use my Italian. On multiple occasions I’ve stumbled my way through conversations with native speakers and come back beaming at my “accomplishment.” I had thought this was a unique trait, but it was something I saw on a daily basis in the students at school. One student in particular, I’ll call him Mark, shared my same eagerness for language. Mark was in group 1 and struggled with English. He could understand the basics but struggled when it came to speaking; that never stopped him. I can’t say I truly understood what he was saying at times, but it was impossible not to admire his effort. Syllables and sounds were minced together as he flew through stories during break times, and even though he may not have been coherent, his effort was admirable and attitude infectious as other students nodded along encouragingly. It was this kind of fearlessness to fail that so many of the students had when it came to language that led to their success.

It wasn’t always enjoyable for them though, and they would become frustrated with the new language. When this happened and the process seemed infinite and impossible, I would switch to their language. No, I am not versed in all the world languages, so for a couple minutes our roles switched. They laughed as I botched simple phrases from their native country. I watched as they released their frustration and recognized that languages are a process and difficult for everyone. Though I have to say, at this point, my Pashto and Albanian have gotten quite good…

Watching the students fearlessly attack the struggle that was English verb forms and conjugation, I felt myself become more fearless in my teaching. I felt encouraged by their eagerness and finally settled into my role as “Professor Ross.” Twice a week I spent an hour teaching my own curriculum. It was a terrifying but incredibly rewarding experience that I will always value, even as I return to my much more comfortable role of being a student. I think my favorite memory was on one of the last days as one of my students was filling out a survey about how the summer program went for him. He was in my computer science class, and with my help he had created a computer game for graduation day. He rarely spoke or participated, so I was never sure I truly got through to him. But he called me over as he was filling out the survey, and just below the question “favorite class” I saw my name and the title “Computer Science.” I never would have known what he had said had he not called me over, he never told me what my class had meant to him, but I knew then and there the impact my hour a week had on him. He was only one of the many students in that class, but even if only he chose my class as his favorite, that answer made all the lesson plans, late nights and the struggle that was keeping the class organized worth it.

I may have taught these students for six weeks, but in the end they gave me a lesson in education. I can’t say that I always felt like I was getting through to them during the lessons, and some days more than others it seemed like a constant struggle to keep the students engaged. I gained the highest respect for my professors, coming in each day, lesson in hand and constantly being “on” for the class; regardless of the glazed over eyes staring back at them. I even learned about the kind of student I want to be; being as fearless and engaged as my students here. Finally, I learned as a teacher that no matter how it may seem on the outside, you can never really know who you are making an impact on and because of that, you always keep teaching, keep pulling for information, because without knowing it, one kid is getting something out of it and if for no other reason, you stay on, stay engaged, stay focused just for that one student.

The “Real” Ireland

Catherine-Farmer-400Reimagining Ireland in 2016: The Role of Museums
By Catherine Farmer

On one of our first Sundays in Dublin, we took a day trip to Glendalough, a beautiful hiking spot just south of the city. As we stood in the rain, taking in the pristine lake surrounded by the shockingly green vegetation, another student in the program commented that we’d found “the real Ireland.” At the time, I thought very little of the comment, because we’d found the Ireland I’d expected to see. Lush greenery, grey skies and misty rain, a waterfall in the distance – neither a leprechaun nor a Celtic chieftain would have looked out of place in the slightest. We’d found the Emerald Isle in full force. As we finished our hike and boarded the bus back to Dublin, I thought back to that comment. How was the version of Ireland at Glendalough any more “real” than the vastly different Ireland of Dublin? In a country that is becoming increasingly multifaceted and diverse, what determines Irish authenticity?

Over the course of the summer, I’ve gotten to experience a different perspective of Ireland through my work at the Chester Beatty Library. The Library is unique to Ireland in that it’s the only designated national cultural institution with an international collection. The collection, which spans Western, Islamic, and East Asian cultures, guides the Library’s ethos: they seek to promote understanding of the cultures present in the collection through both exhibitions and outreach. In recent years, as immigration to Ireland has continued to rise, the Library’s mission has broadened. The collections allow Irish citizens both new and old to engage with cultures present in Ireland today, providing an outlet for intercultural dialogue and exchange that further cements the Library as the only one of its kind. In my time at the Library, I have seen this intercultural approach in action: I’ve heard Yeats read in Mandarin, seen Irish teens make animated art based on a 17th-century Japanese scroll, and helped submit a grant application for promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue in Irish schools. I’ve heard people who work at the Library describe it as representative of “the new Ireland,” in recognition of how much the uptick of people coming in has affected this island.

Much of my work this summer has centered on the upcoming Irish centennial. The Easter Rising of 1916 is considered the moment when the tide turned towards Irish independence from Great Britain: even though Ireland didn’t gain independence for another 6 years, the events of 1916 set into motion the chain of events that led to the Irish Free State, and ultimately, today’s Republic of Ireland. The Irish government has organized a jam-packed program of events to celebrate the centennial, spanning most of next year. The program as a whole is fittingly referred to as Ireland 2016. The events of Ireland 2016, which range from commemorative wreath-laying ceremonies to school art competitions, have a heavy bias towards the Ireland of 1916. While paying tribute to the historical figures and events that led to modern Ireland is important, there is very little in the program to show how Ireland has grown and changed in its first hundred years.

The Library’s contribution to the 2016 program, and my work specifically, has focused on what Ireland looks like now. Ireland’s newest residents –brought to the country through everything from asylum applications to job opportunities – have changed Irish culture in the past hundred, or even past twenty, years. By highlighting this cultural shift, we hope to give a voice to the version of Ireland the state program largely ignores by omission: the new Ireland, to put it in the Library’s terms, whose identity is not solely rooted in the events of Easter 1916.

All of this brings me back to my original question: what does the real Ireland entail? I’ve observed so many different variations of Ireland in my two months here, including both the historically rooted Ireland of 1916 and the far more diverse Ireland of 2015. I’ve seen the Atlantic coast of Ireland, where English is the secondary language to Irish, and shops on the north side of Dublin whose signage is exclusively in Polish. I’ve eaten some of the best falafel in my life from a store right down the street from Dublin Castle, the seat of British government in the 19th century and home of Dublin’s original namesake.  I’ve met asylum-seekers living in Ireland’s direct provision system whose government-provided housing in the middle of Georgian Dublin, right in one of the city’s most sought-after postal codes. These observations have led me to the (perhaps obvious) conclusion that there is not one authentic Ireland towards which the other versions strive; scores of identities and histories, all authentically Irish in their own right, exist within the context of Ireland as a nation.

However, that’s not to say that the different cultures now present in Ireland coexist peacefully with each other and with Ireland’s history. Indeed, at times, I’ve questioned whether many Irish citizens even acknowledge its cultural diversity. During my first week, I attended a cultural diversity workshop put on by my placement supervisors for other museum professionals. I was struck by how uncomfortable the participants were when it came time to discuss cultural diversity as a group. I was in a room full of capable adults, yet very few of them even knew how to articulate how Ireland has changed in the past twenty years, let alone how they could reach out to the cultural groups that have brought about that change.

Ireland still has a ways to go before it reaches a point in which all of the different cultures present here, each with their own take on Irish identity, form any kind of coherent structure. A culturally integrated Ireland wouldn’t take on the “tossed salad” ideal of integration, nor the “melting pot” of assimilation: whatever food metaphor that is ultimately chosen needs to capture how traditionally Irish narratives are complimented and enhanced by newer narratives of immigration and cultural exchange. This is, of course, far easier said than done. It will take a concerted effort to newly define the real, intercultural, Ireland, but creating a society in which the 1916 and 2016 versions coexist can be Ireland’s goal for its second century.

Seeking Asylum

Reed-photo-400Seeking Asylum in Ireland
By Reed McLaurin

When I first learned I would be spending my summer in Dublin working at Metro Éireann, a multicultural newspaper that focuses on the stories of immigrants, I was both nervous and excited. Journalistic writing was new to me, and I wanted to be prepared. I would have the freedom to write my own articles, but my area of focus was to be Direct Provision, a system for providing basic services to asylum seekers in Ireland as they waited for their protection status to be determined.

As I began my research into Direct Provision, which houses approximately 4500 people in 35 government operated centers across the country, I was shocked by how universally critical both national and international groups were towards it. Why would people call for an end to a system that provided housing, food, medical care, education, and a weekly stipend to anyone who claimed to need international protection?

My initial confusion stemmed from both a lack of understanding of life in Direct Provision and my knowledge of the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in the US. In the fall of my freshman year, I partook in the Kenan FOCUS cluster and learned about these issues for the first time. After reading books like What is the What, I was embarrassed with how little the US government does to ensure that resettled refugees actually succeed in their new home.

During that program I also studied the child migrant crisis that made headlines in summer 2014. When I travelled to the Texas/Mexico border with Kenan during spring break, I was able to see these issues first hand. Although we volunteered at an amazing Catholic charity that supports incoming migrants, the US government detains such people in camps that resemble medium-security prisons.

Compared to this harsh truth, the idea of Direct Provision seemed laudable. I was impressed that the Irish government gave so much to all those seeking asylum when the US does so little for those it recognizes need protection. However, while Direct Provision centers are not prisons, the institutionalization that people in this system experience makes them feel entrapped.

Ireland was historically known as a nation of emigration, but an unprecedented influx of immigrants in the late 1990s forever altered this place. Direct Provision was initially set up in 2000 as an emergency measure to accommodate the thousands of asylum seekers that came during this surge. The system does provide all the services I mentioned, but it also seriously limits the lives of those in it.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to cook their own food, have a job, or access third-level education. They also live in crowded, uncomfortable centers that were not designed for their current purpose. In the short term, such limitations are a nuisance that can be survived with the promise of protection in mind. In the long term, they whittle away at a person’s sense of self.

Unfortunately, Ireland is the only EU state that does not have a single, concurrent procedure for determining if someone qualifies for refugee status, subsidiary protection, or leave to remain—the three forms of international protection it can grant. Instead, Ireland uses a multilayered, inefficient system that assesses a claim to each status consecutively. For people living in Direct Provision, this keeps their lives in limbo as they wait up to a decade for a final decision. Developing an intimate relationship, maintaining professional skills, teaching your children about their culture’s food—all are impossible during this wait. While asylum seekers may have escaped troubles in their home nations, life in Ireland provides a new set of challenges.

In this context, the international outcry against Direct Provision makes sense. The system is certainly better then the realities of asylum seekers who must live in tent cities along a border or flee to a nation overtly opposed to their inclusion, but that does not make the status quo acceptable.

The Irish government eventually heeded these calls for change in 2014 and set up a working group composed of academics, refugees and asylum seekers, representatives of civil society, and relevant Government departments to examine the system. After months of work, the group released its final report on June 30th with 173 recommendations seeking systematic reform.

The recommendations included introducing a single procedure, raising the weekly stipend from  €19.10 for adults and €9.60 for children to €38.73 and €29.80 respectively, allowing asylum seekers to cook for themselves and to work after 9 months of residence, and no longer treating students as international when seeking third level education.

All 173 recommendations have one simple goal in mind: making a full life obtainable. While the report was a strong signal that Ireland is ready for change, some organizations have expressed concern with the strength and pace of the Government’s response.

It remains to be seen how, when, and if real change to Direct Provision will come, but there are strong economic, legal, and moral reasons that it must. Direct Provision is expensive. It costs the government huge amounts of money to house asylum seekers for such an extended amount of time. When they do emerge from it, people have lost technical skills and their ability to integrate into the Irish workforce and society as a whole. A diverse, multicultural Ireland where a plethora of ideas, experiences, beliefs, and skills exists will be more economically and socially productive.

Beyond this utilitarian argument, Ireland must comply with all international human rights laws to which it is a party. Organizations such as Irish Refugee Council have used the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention Against Torture, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, among others, as bases to criticize Direct Provision.

This system does not allow people to enjoy such absolutes as the right to family and private life and the right to human dignity. Ireland has a moral obligation that extends beyond the law to maintain these rights, especially for asylum seekers seeking protection from such abuses.

Public Health

Priya-photo-400A Barrier in More Ways than One
By Priya Sarkar

This summer I worked with Cairde, a health advocacy center for ethnic minorities.  I was initially surprised by the number of people coming in with questions about acquiring Irish citizenship, renter’s rights, visa stamps, etc. After 7 weeks of working at Cairde, however, I have learned that for newcomers to Ireland health is about much more than ailments and doctors. The stress and frustration that the migrant community face on a daily basis has a huge impact on their physical and mental health.

While in Cairde’s Balbriggan centre, I worked with a Romani client. She was a single mother of 8 children. Romani people are often a marginalized and underserved community across Europe, and the Roma community in Ireland is no exception. Our Balbriggan centre’s main clientele at the moment are Roma women struggling through Dublin’s housing crisis. Homelessness is a real risk for this community, and living on the streets is not uncommon even for entire families. This particular client’s story was familiar. All she could afford to rent for her 9 person family was two rooms of a house. The landlord and social worker assessed her cramped and dirty rooms and deemed the living conditions unsuitable for her 8 children, all of whom are under the age of 18. The landlord gave her 21 days to find new accommodation. She is on the waiting list for Client’s Housing. It typically takes years to get off the waiting list, and there simply are no 3-4 room government houses for my client’s large family. She came into Cairde hoping someone could help her respond effectively to the eviction/relocation order. The woman was incredibly sweet; it broke my heart to see her tired, rugged face. She was incredibly thin and looked very unwell. While she looked more than 50 years old, she was only 32. You could see the stress written on her weathered face. The stress of not knowing whether your children will be separated and taken from you obviously takes an extreme toll on your wellbeing. Living in horrible conditions in a decrepit, poverty-stricken area can’t help but impact how you feel mentally, and thus in turn how you feel physically.

Poverty and chronic lack of access to resources is not the only challenge many migrants face. Because all of our advocacy workers speak a second language besides English, a majority of our clients come in to Cairde because they cannot speak English well. The language barrier prevents them from being able to understand necessary things such as how to get a medical card or how to fill out the citizenship form. The language barrier also prevents our clients from being able to properly advocate for themselves. For example, I worked with a client last week who had a mistake on her medical card. She needed me to call medical card services on her behalf, because she had written a letter and called every week for a month without any help. It is extremely difficult to advocate for yourself or demand what you need with conviction in a language you can barely speak. The stress and frustration that come along with trying so hard to get somewhere or get something and have no one listen to you or give you the help you need also takes a toll on your health. Social determinants of health are why Cairde focuses so much on helping people in any way they can; they are improving their health by improving their social situations. Iryna, my supervisor, was describing a case to me of a client who came in and was visibly very sick, mentally and physically. Cairde’s resources helped him get a job, and advocacy workers had helped him get his work permit and get accommodation in a hostel. After his time here at Cairde, he really looked like a totally new person, like someone with the energy and health to carry out a normal life.

These visible health improvements I see in clients are why I think organizations like Cairde and the other organizations my fellow Duke students are placed in are so important. It’s so much more than helping someone get citizenship or getting them their medical card, it’s listening to people who are too often ignored. It’s actually improving the physical health of these people by simply listening to them without turning them away. It has been such a privilege to be a part of such an amazing organization as Cairde. I’ve been able to do some of my own projects such as start a domestic violence awareness campaign and make an informative counselling leaflet. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with Cairde’s incredible staff on their projects, from helping them put together government reports on homelessness in the Roma population to helping design parts of the office. I’ve loved all of the work I’ve done at Cairde, mostly because I know the vital impact organizations like Cairde have on the migrant community.