During the summer of 2017, 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.
Obscurity by Saheel Chodavadia
Sameer walks around Dublin Zoo. He is from Afghanistan. All his friends linger behind without him. He is an unaccompanied minor. The sea otters make him pause. He is silent. Alone.
Together, we are subtle, blurred, gloomy smudges on a violently bright tapestry.
Without those smudges that tapestry is nothing.
The word “obscured” immediately incites negative emotions. Lonely, Isolated, Worthless, Forgotten. That is superficial. There is power in obscurity. To work, to do, to be in a perpetual state of anonymity opens the door to infinite opportunity, obvious and formerly hidden.
In the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) at the Department of Justice and Equality, obscurity is the prelude to progress. Nameless at my desk, obscured to the world, my purpose is more clear than ever. I am there to work, there to build, and there to indirectly empower asylum seekers and refugees, always thinking of impact. At my fingertips lie the tools to achieve that purpose, unhindered by any grandiose thoughts of fame and recognition. I am satisfied in my obscurity.
At the Dublin Zoo, obscurity is the prelude to leadership. Alone ahead of the group, obscured to the world, Sameer’s role is more clear than ever. He is there to see, there to enjoy, and there to indirectly lead his wily friends through the entirety of Dublin Zoo, always seven steps ahead. At his feet lie the tools to achieve that purpose, unhindered by any pretentious thoughts of tomfoolery and celebrity. He is satisfied in his obscurity.
We, those small seemingly insignificant smudges on the tapestry of life, are the connection, the link between the multitude of furious colors. Without those small smudges, without the work of the subtle, there is nothing but disconnect, discoloration, a hideous blotchy piece of canvas.
It is foolish to dismiss subtlety so easily. People forget the warmth of the limelight can easily burn.
How, if not through subtlety, are we Duke students supposed to enable the change we wish to see? The point of my premise is not to advise a life of obscurity, it is simply to expose the ceaseless benefits of the subtle approach, especially in a situation where impact is the end goal, over the brute force limelight approach. Subtlety over strength. I identify five key benefits.
- Rewards of Respect
As a new employee anywhere, it is always good practice to learn before assuming. The RIA employees have been there for 2, 10, 20 years. They know what they are doing. And it is not too much of a stretch to assume they are comfortable in their practices, however old-fashioned they are. I could have come up with an idea that is game-changing, probably actually impactful, and largescale, as any Duke student could. But, if that idea goes against the core values of the institution of employment, it is next to useless. Working within my surroundings, working in obscurity and through subtlety, has allowed me to transform my initial project into something much more widespread, impacting thousands more than it would have initially. People expect the new employee to be boisterous, bright-eyed, radical, but coming in with the mindset of obscurity allowed me to bypass the weeks of mistrust and annoyance and earn the respect of my colleagues, who were then in turn more willing and more receptive to my incremental ideas.
- Navigating Bureaucracy
Coming from youth such as ourselves, any idea is immediately critically scrutinized and much more easily dismissed, simply because we lack in experience. This is problematic, but ultimately factual. To work around this barrier to impact is what separates the internally purposed and the externally purposed. The brute force approach is easily dismissed, frowned upon, and at a certain level, to see it is amusing to more veteran employees. There are never truly resources and institutions in place enough to satisfy the brute force method. The subtle approach however can quickly work its way through the layers of oversight to fulfillment, simply because the smaller the ask, the less resources and institutional history required.
- Possibility of Impact
The subtle approach, incremental and obscure, makes enacting the ultimate end goal much easier, with each ask becoming slightly more and more, without ever tipping the balance between reasonable addition to unachievable vision. The game-changing idea never goes away, it is simply the spontaneous approach versus the calculated and subtle approach that differentiates its ability to come to fruition. Adding small clauses to an already initial miniscule idea and working up to that game-changing idea is much more likely than proposing the game-changing idea in its entirety first in an impatient, attention-seeking manner.
- Speed of Plausible Impact
It may seem the brute force approach is the fastest way to impact. Honestly, it is. But there are a number of characteristics and factors that affect if the brute force approach method can actually work. The most important and the one that Duke students lack is authority. Working around this barrier to impact, the incremental approach is the fastest way to plausible impact, working subtly instead of magnanimously, to ensure that impact is actually achieved and implemented rather than considered and dismissed.
- Assessment of Impact
Even if, by some miracle, the brute force method worked, it is much more difficult to assess the impact of a radical change than an incremental one. Radical changes bring large numbers of variables to the table while incremental changes allow the workplace to monitor and control the variables to ensure that the change is actually impactful. If the change made is impossible to accurately assess, forever leaving the lingering chance that the change was actually detrimental to the target population, is it even worthwhile?
Sameer and I are friends now. Last week I found out he spoke Hindi, and we’ve been conversing in Hindi since then, our own secret relatively obscure language. Where does he fit into all of this? If I’ve learned obscurity is the most impactful approach from working in a government agency, Sameer has learned the same lesson traversing from Afghanistan to Turkey to Greece to France to Ireland. It is those who are quiet, unobtrusive, observing, that learn and survive. We may be obscure together, but we are obscure on completely different levels. My obscurity comes from a rational perspective on impact. His comes from a survivalist perspective on life. We are two completely different sides of the same coin. Anonymous. Alone.
Measuring Impact by Naod Sebhatleab
Now that we’re in the last week, and I’m finishing up my research, I find myself reflecting deeply about what kind of impact my research report will have. Since I was in high school, I always imagined my contributions to the world through the lens of a hyper-competitive academic setting. How can I prove myself worthy? How can I up my level of prestige? What scholarships can I compete for? These were the considerations that guided my decisions and determined my involvement with the world.
Yet, given the task I was assigned with DukeEngage, for once, these considerations went by the wayside. The foreign environment and the projects over emphasis on each Duke students’ individual experience meant there was literally nothing else I could concern myself with, no ulterior motive, no maneuvering to capture some level of prestige, just me and my project. In this context, my focus began shifting sharply towards the impact of my work. How is my research going to improve the lives of individuals? After all, this report is to be the cornerstone of my entire summer and the subject of much of my thinking.
Based on what I’d heard, this report had the potential to provide very practical information to the organization I am working for. My analytical training at Duke could bring to light some of the more nuanced issues behind what the Separated Children’s Service experienced on daily basis. More ambitiously, this report, in all its cutting-edge foresight, could perhaps inspire the policy changes that would facilitate better employment outcomes for future migrant students. This prospect, that my services would be invaluable to the achievement of some goal, I remember was at first exhilarating to me. In fact, I believe it may have been what originally drew me to Duke Engage. It was an affirmation of what I had been molded to think my whole life—that my academic streak would bring me unparalleled fulfillment in life, in ways that others could never get. Without this academic component of my work, I can imagine my disappointment and the concern I would feel that the organization would not be getting as far as it could. But as I closed out the last of my interviews, I realized that this framework was simply not holding up.
The students I interviewed came from all over the place and experienced a humongous range of success. One had never worked a job a day in his life. Another had gone on to get his Masters degree from UCD, and was applying to earn his PhD when we spoke. What unified this diverse set of individuals were two names: Andrew and Manuela. Every single student, without exception, could recount detailed stories of a time when these individuals felt like a saving grace. In fact, the reason I experienced so much facility getting people to agree to interviews was because they felt like they were doing it as a favor to these two. Both of these individuals had spent countless hours working with students in a one on one setting, trying to be as helpful as possible. They didn’t always have the resources to make something happen for a student, but god damnit they tried. One student nearly brought us both to tears as he remembered a time when Andrew fronted him half the money to pay for his nationality card. The impact that they were able to have on so many lives was beyond words. It was tangible, it was meaningful, and it fostered the sense of deep human connection that most individuals encounter only a few times in their life.
In the end, I barely worked with the two of these individuals. My time was spent bouncing around from the school to interviews, and back to school again. But through a mere 35-minute interaction with the people who knew them, I developed a tremendous respect for the work that these two do. From what the students mentioned, this was the kind of support one would offer almost exclusively to a member of their immediate, nuclear family. Yet, the empathy and diligence with which Andrew and Manuela carried out these tasks made it seem as though it was a part of their duty.
Before Dublin, I could have never begun to imagine investing so much of myself into individuals on a daily basis. I, perhaps haughtily, thought my knack for analytical thinking could save me time doing trivial tasks that didn’t require a high-level thinking, while achieving the same or even better outcomes. But reflecting on my paper, as proud of it as I am, I have humbly learned that my impact is mere busy-work compared to the countless hours of empathy-filled support students receive from Andrew and Manuela. And more broadly, that sometimes, the most far-reaching impact can be had without any of the literature reviews or analytics, but with a heart of compassion and the selfless commitment to do good by others.
Micromanagement of Care by Shweta Lodha
I paused, rapidly going through the research I had done about SPIRASI’s many integrative undertakings.
Provide English Training Board certification to students to aid their transition in to the Irish job market? Create medical-legal reports to help asylum seekers receive refugee status in Ireland? Allow survivors of torture and trauma to receive therapeutic treatment?
Taking my silence as a white flag, my supervisor continued, “Since our inception, we have always provided tea and biscuits in the student canteen.”
My eyebrows instantly furrowed in confusion. SPIRASI is widely known for providing incredibly effective rehabilitative services, medical-legal consulting, and educational classes to refugee and asylum seeker survivors of trauma and torture. Nowhere on the SPIRASI informational pamphlet does it boast SPIRASI’s abilities to provide snacks and tea to clients, many of whom frequent the canteen for a maximum of 10 minutes per visit.
Given all of this, how could my incredibly brilliant and thoughtful supervisor put SPIRASI’s ability to put out a few inexpensive snacks and tea as one of its most respectable qualities?
Voicing my queries, I started, “Andreas, with all due respect, I am a bit confused. SPIRASI offers so many more important services, many of which I have personally seen you working extremely hard to execute. I feel our educational and medical services are far more important than our snack provision ones.”
Andreas smiled and started, “Shweta, you are not wrong! Our educational and medical branches are vital to SPIRASI; by now you have probably picked up that most of our time, money, and manpower is devoted to these areas. However, the fundamental mission of SPIRASI is to provide holistic care. This means that we work to target all of the needs of our clients, not just those that are most visible. Many of our clients trek long distances to come to SPIRASI, and feel comfort for the first time all day when they sit down in the canteen to have a hot cup of tea and a couple of biscuits. When we focus on caring for the entire individual, we can not afford to overlook even the tiniest of factors that could impact how cared for he feels. Our clients will always have the security of knowing that regardless of their past hardship and suffering, there will always be a warm cup of tea to drink, cookies to eat, and a place to call home at SPIRASI.”
As I went through the next few days, I began to take notice of the many tiny ways that embody SPIRASI’s model of holistic care provision. When I walked in to the building the next day, I tried to view SPIRASI from the eyes of a client. Picture this:
You walk in to SPIRASI. The first thing you see before even reaching the reception desk is a small waiting area, covered with boxes that read in bold letters, “Please take whatever you need. As you walk forward, you are instantly greeted by a smiling receptionist who likely knows you by name. You are asked, more than once, if you would like any tea or food while you wait for your appointment. 5 minutes before your appointment time, you start to walk towards the room, and notice that right across the therapy offices intentionally exist “The Nelson Mandela Level 3 English and the “Mahatma Ghandi Level 4 English” classrooms. After your appointment, you visit the restroom and see, right underneath the mirror, health related informational pamphlets available in more than ten different languages. You look up to view your reflection, and see the words “you are amazing” written on the surface of the mirror in marker, reflecting right back at you.
While SPIRASI fundamentally manifests its social responsibility through small scale, incremental change, some may argue that focusing so heavily on the individual can detract from understanding the scope of the actual problem.
Though a more comprehensive method of social change may be beneficial in other service organizations, I feel the heart of SPIRASI’s work would not be suited for this type of approach. Much of what SPIRASI does requires patience, time and personalized oversight, and I believe all of these factors are at risk of being lost when we at try to streamline services at SPIRASI. At the end of the day, we are always left with questions like “how do we create a one-size-fits-all formula of care for individuals who have all struggled in such intimate and complicated ways?” and “given our limited resources as an NGO, what do we lose when we focus on increasing the number of clients we offer our services to instead of the individual client himself?”
I may not have the answers to these questions quite yet, but one thing is for sure: at SPIRASI, I have become quite friendly with the idea that big journeys often begin with small steps.
Summer Studies by Steve Hassey
Entering into my eight weeks working in Dublin, I was nervous about undertaking youth work in an unfamiliar context. I value the importance of understanding an environment before taking action to tackle its shortcomings, and Dublin was a foreign land to me, represented primarily through James Joyce’s Ulysses and the satirical film Waking Ned Devine. Duke students were quick to assuage my fears, saying that Ireland’s culture would differ little from that of the United States, but I knew this would be far from the case.
Although our group read two books and watched two documentaries to help understand Ireland before our arrival, I spent much of my time in the days and weeks leading up to our departure frantically reading every piece of literature I could find on diversity and inclusiveness within Ireland’s youth sector in order to have some base level of understanding before my first day of work at Scouting Ireland.
More so than anything else, I struggled to understand the differing needs of identity groups as they interacted with my organization, Scouting Ireland. This city, as would hold true of most modern cities, has lived up to my expectations in terms of its remarkable complexity. Dublin is a paradox in and of itself: steeped in the history of a homogenous people who have inhabited the island for millennia, yet diversifying at a rate that has rendered it a hub of multiculturalism within Europe.
While I was correct in evaluating my relative lack of understanding about this island, I underestimated the value conversations could play in an on-the-ground style of learning that has characterized my seven weeks with Duke Engage. Throughout our time in Dublin, words have consistently pushed my understanding of this city.
Just as much as any youth work procedural booklet or Scouting Ireland policy, the words of those with and for whom I work have formed my basic understanding of this island and those that inhabit it. Understanding the ins and outs of this city has taken a listening ear, as I constantly pepper my boss with questions about everything from the Irish Traveller community to Direct Provision centers to the thinking behind Scouting Ireland’s Diversity and Inclusion policy.
A large part of my time in Ireland has been spent facilitating two programs that pair migrant youth with Scouts. These programs represent an important opportunity for Irish nationals and migrants to participate in peer-to-peer learning to more fully grasp each other’s backgrounds, both in their similarities and differences. While each program had its flaws, they were ultimately effective in creating an intercultural space that otherwise might not exist for Irish nationals and migrant youth to interact and learn from one another.
After the completion of this program, I sat down with Ali, who only recently arrived in Ireland. He told me that “If you are new, you don’t know any young people, you think you are excluded, you are not a part of a group. But when you have a relationship with Irish people, you feel a lot more comfortable.”
Alexandra, a 7-year-old girl from Clondalkin, explained to me that “the best part of the program was that I saw some of the children at the playground on Friday. We were chatting, and now I have new friends.”
I have talked with young people about the joy in departing from their corruption-ridden home nation, as well as the difficulty of leaving a country that holds your only friends, family, and home. In Scouts, I have discussed the difficulties of transitioning genders, of being an ethnic minority, and of engaging direct provision centers with those that have experienced these issues.
In each of these cases, the young person whom I am working on behalf of has done an unparalleled job in outlining how issues directly affect the day-to-day procedures of inclusiveness within Scouting Ireland. To fully understand the interplay amongst different social phenomenon’s in this country, I would have to spend a lifetime working here, yet these conversations have given me important insight into the issues on which I am working.
More than anything else, through these conversations I have been reaffirmed in my belief in multiculturalism as a necessity to solve this city and this island’s problems. Scouting Ireland’s membership numbers just over 50,000 and its network stretches across both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Its capacity to positively affect change spanning across this vast network of staff, volunteers, and Scouts is unparalleled. With an ear actively listening to those that are most affected by its diversity and inclusion-centric policies and practices, Scouting Ireland should be on the forefront of multiculturalism within an increasingly diverse Ireland.
*All names were changed in this letter in order to protect the identity of those participating in the program
A Refugee is More Than Just a Refugee by Bill McCarthy
Each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done, said Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, in Just Mercy. Each of us is more than the worst thing that has ever happened to us, too.
A murderer is more than just a murderer. A thief is more than just a thief. A beggar is more than just a beggar.
A refugee is more than just a refugee.
Unfortunately, we often forget to detach the person from the experience – or that such separation is even possible. In a world dominated by statistical discrimination, connecting an individual to the stereotypes associated with his or her life experience is convenient. We do not have to think terribly hard about it. A refugee is a refugee is a refugee, and somehow we make ourselves okay with that.
But Stevenson was on to something. A refugee is more than just a refugee.
In my time at Metro Éireann and in Ireland, I have engaged with men and women representing several different backgrounds and lifestyles. No two people are alike. And interestingly enough, I have found that those for whom Ireland is not home – immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees – are often most receptive to the beauty behind all of the difference.
Take Tarek, for example. Tarek is a Syrian teenager who landed in Dublin after fleeing unaccompanied to Greece to seek asylum. When I see him on Wednesday afternoons, he likes to ask me for help with his English.
“I love learning new language,” he told me one day. “I watch American films to practice my English because, if my English is very good, I can speak better and make more friends.”
Tarek is right: there is a tremendous power in language. To communicate is to properly know – or get to know – another. Language can open new lines of communication that, for young asylum seekers still unsettled in an unfamiliar place, are often key to happiness. Everybody – migrants and non-migrants alike – wants to be known and loved. Everybody wants to feel heard. Everybody wants to be understood.
Still barriers – both spontaneous and systematic – may try to disrupt the degree to which communication can occur across cultures, but we can work to be forever mindful of those barriers and, in doing so, break them down. In an ever-diversifying Ireland where the idea of culture is beginning to mean more than just Gaelic athletics and Guinness, these barriers must be broken. Exchange – of perspectives, of personalities, of cultures – depends on it. Integration depends on it.
How, then, can we encourage greater cultural exchange? In a note written to me by the director of a summer media camp for Irish children, I was asked to, while leading a workshop related to the intercultural writing competition of which I am in charge, teach a lesson on cultural diversity. But therein lay a problem for me: I did not think cultural diversity could be taught. At least, I did not think I could properly teach it.
I struggled to conceptualize how I, a 20-year-old white male from the United States, could be expected to instruct young people living within the legal and historical framework of another nation on a concept so delicate as cultural diversity. By no means was the writing competition established so students like me could lecture would-be participants on the potential of an intercultural Ireland.
In truth, we each approach a topic like cultural diversity through a lens that is entirely our own. No one person can reasonably tell another that he or she should reconsider the way his or her culture fits into Ireland’s social landscape. Young people especially – impressionable as they can sometimes be – should be encouraged to balance all considerations and arrive at their own opinions.
With our intercultural writing competition and the associated writing workshops, we at Metro Éireann and the Kenan Institute for Ethics are hoping to enable this level of thinking. We are providing a structure for thinking about cultural diversity, a creative outlet for wrestling with it, and a platform for discussing it. We are trying to initiate a cross-cultural dialogue of which the Ireland of centuries past was not fully capable. We are trying to help the next generation continue to move Ireland forward.
Our competition is an effort aimed at integration, really. It is an effort aimed at communication and understanding. It is an effort aimed at interculturalism. When I did arrive at that summer media camp, I did not lead a lecture. I lead a discussion, prefaced by the disclosure that what I said was of no more value than what any camper said. The students and I talked about life in Ireland, about culture and diversity and cultural diversity. We talked about multiculturalism and interculturalism, and we mapped out the distinction between the two.
We talked about how interculturalism goes beyond the mere recognition of the existence of multiple cultures and instead refers to the way in which people of different cultures interact, communicate and come to understand each other. We talked about how our writing competition – which empowers storytelling amongst young migrant and Irish writers – could bring Ireland one small step closer to true interculturalism.
If such a step does indeed take place, I would consider my summer a success. An intercultural Ireland is one in which more people feel known and loved, more people feel heard, and more people feel understood. Hopefully, this Ireland is not too far away. Hopefully, the competition will help us reach it. And hopefully, those who choose to submit their stories and poems will learn – not from me, but from each other – that each person is more than simply their worst experience.
A refugee is more than just a refugee.
The Personal Value of Citizenship by Caroline Wang
I smile at my client, whose eyes are wide with anticipation and pride, and nod. I hand back her application packet and exchange for it her smartphone camera, which I use to snap a couple of pictures to capture the moment. “Sorry for being annoying,” she adds, “I’ve just been waiting forever for this moment.”
I work at the Citizenship Application Support Service (CASS), a consultation service that assists individuals with the Irish citizenship process. After learning the intricacies of the process and how difficult the application can be at parts, I wholeheartedly believe in the value of our service. In fact, I hear on a daily basis from our clients that they couldn’t have done it without us. Unfortunately, CASS is currently in a tight spot. The organization lost its funding from the Department of Justice and Equality at the end of May, just one week before I arrived in Ireland ready to work, and had to begin charging in order to keep its doors open.
The problem with introducing money into the matter is that you sometimes lose sight of the important things. Every day I sit at the front desk and watch potential clients walk in, hear of our price change, and walk right back out in shock. Between my supervisor’s frustration and the hushed conversations with board members that I heard pieces of, I knew the office could not operate much longer if we didn’t start making more money. I desperately wanted to help and began to put what I’ve learned in school to the test – I analyzed our situation, considered costs and revenues, and finally created a business strategy to maximize profit margin based on the value provided by our service. Long story short, all of this analytical work required me to assign a numerical value for citizenship.
It’s difficult for me to discern the value of CASS’s service because citizenship means different things to different people, but my closest point of reference is my parents, both of whom are first-generation immigrants. I still have memories from when I was young of sitting on the floor of my parents’ study as they filled out forms, stayed up late memorizing information for the citizenship test, and scouring mountains of documents to prove their residency. All in all, it took seven years for my parents to achieve citizenship in the United States. I can’t wrap my head around how exhausting that process must have been, but according to my parents, it was worth it for the sense of belonging and ownership that comes with being a citizen of the country you live in. I think about my parents, and the countless commemorative photographs I’ve taken for proud clients, and I can’t help but think that there’s no number big enough to capture the true value of citizenship.
Now, when I walk into work and sit down with another client, I try not to think of them as another figure on our annual report but rather an individual taking another step closer to becoming an Irish citizen. I think of my parents and the pride they take in citizenship, and remember that the value of citizenship is too intrinsic to be quantified for a cost-benefit analysis. As I input another entry into our database for “approved” applications, I don’t think about how that’s our 305th approved application thus far this year and how great that’ll look on our annual report. Instead, that’s another person who gets to take pride in Ireland and call it his/her own, and that’s valuable in itself.
Focus of Public Service by Mary Aline Fertin
Who knew a bureaucratic revolution could be so compassionate?
On this week’s bus ride to our activity with unaccompanied minor refugees, I sat next to one of my new friends from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is usually relatively reserved, except when encouraging her younger siblings to challenge a Duke student in a game of bowling or handball – then, the teasing older sister persona I often take on with my own family makes an appearance.
“Do you have children, then?”, she asked as our bus pulled out of its parking space. I was taken aback. “No, I’m definitely planning on waiting until after I graduate and start my career. I want to go to law school, too. And, I’m only eighteen.” “Eighteen? I thought you were all in your late twenties!” She lit up and chattered on about how funny it was that we are the same age, and we both ended up in Dublin at the same time from so far away. She hadn’t been quiet because she was shy – she just didn’t know we had much in common.
Yet, I was acutely aware of how different our perspective on the next five to ten years of our lives may be. She has only just this month completed a long and arduous journey to a safe country where she has leave to remain, her family is still in the process of being reunited, and she now faces the prospect of orienting and integrating herself in this new community. She came to the same conclusion: “It’s interesting how people’s paths can be so different, at the same age. White people always seem to have a plan for their future. Back home, plans mostly involved having babies. But here, you are all prepared for the next five or six steps in your path.” Now that some of the insecurity in her life has abated, she has also started allowing herself to make plans. She hopes to be an aesthetician in Dublin, and wants to figure out how to access the appropriate training and launch her business. She is worried that she will not be able to enroll in or afford a certificate program.
This is a common concern for many recipients of international protection. They frequently fail to bring documentation of their previous qualifications (such as a high school diploma), and their education abroad may not be recognized by the Department of Education and Skills. There are also constraints to receiving free access to third level education including a three-year residency requirement in Ireland, leading to many migrants feeling like they are stuck, wasting time, unable to move on with their lives by continuing their schooling.
My focus these past five weeks has been assessing on these gaps in the refugee resettlement pathways at the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP), in the Department of Justice and Equality. My supervisor is searching for every crack in the system, hoping to launch his vision of a bureaucratic revolution by institutionalizing the resettlement and integration processes at a national policy level.
The refugee resettlement sector of the public service (and in particular the Department of Justice and Equality) faces immense amounts of pressure from all sides. This includes budgetary constraints, recent Supreme Court rulings, public opinion forged by sensationalistic media, criticism from the non-governmental sectors, political maneuvering, the tension between concepts of equality, fairness, and reparations, and the unprecedented scope of the refugee crisis in Ireland.
Throughout the government, a number of actors should be involved in making refugee resettlement work – the Health Service Executive, the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Yet, there are no mechanisms in place to bring these groups to the table in a constructive and accountable manner. There is no institutional pathway for dialogue or agreement, no overarching policy directing these actors towards a common goal of integrating refugees, no discretionary budgets focused on refugee-specific needs, and no accountability devices. All of these mechanisms could serve to alleviate the pressures on the public service agents working in this field.
Instead, the small office of 20 or so staff members at the IRPP must personally navigate the array of agencies and actors needed to resettle thousands of refugees. They communicate with the Local Authorities to find housing for each family, take each refugee to their first doctor’s appointment, establish crèches in the Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre… The staff is familiar with, but far from desensitized to, the monikers of “Nazis” and “prison guards” given to them by those who disapprove of the reception and orientation centers. They contend with a constant barrage of criticisms from agents who do not propose alternatives or truly constructive help. Some are known around the office as “having been to war” – that is, having worked in this sector for more than the five or so years it typically takes employees to burn out.
It is hard to know to do refugee resettlement well, but the IRPP is trying to make a two-year-old program successful with few institutional agreements, little discretionary budget, no national policy concerning refugee resettlement, and a huge lack of precedent. As an intern who has only been doing this work for five weeks, I have caught myself relying on these pressures to idealize the office’s work and dismiss most critiques of the government as facetious out of hand. (And, in fairness, they often are – mention that you work at the Refugee Protection Programme and watch every NGO intern around you groan.) Given that this was my introduction to the work of refugee resettlement in a government agency, I have found myself focused on simplifying the bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake – with good reason, but perhaps mistakenly so.
My conversation with my friend from the Democratic Republic of Congo was an important reminder of where the focus of public service should be. The creation of institutional pathways towards a whole-of-government approach to refugee resettlement cannot just be a change which simplifies the daily lives of government workers and streamlines the processes. We should aim to alleviate the pressures on the public service agents working in this field, but only insofar as it also enables us to improve the process for those we are serving. If our goal is to integrate recipients of international protection into Irish society, this principle needs to be reflected throughout each and every process we undertake, regardless of the other constraints we face. Bureaucracy cannot be solved for bureaucracy’s sake – we need a compassionate revolution.
This realization was solidified when I attended a clinic at one of the Emergency Reception and Orientation Centers this past week, where IRPP staff spend two days in the EROC every month meeting with families to hear and respond to their concerns. Worries were raised regarding the possibility of finding housing near family members, the varying availability of interpretation in hospitals, potential reimbursement for taxis in cases of emergency… All of these are matters pertaining to the departments I have been focused on, trying to determine ways to involve them constructively in the resettlement process. My friend from the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, would find recognition of her qualifications much simpler if the IRPP had established agreements with the National Foreign Qualification authorities. These could involve the provision of fee waivers and a systematic agreement for the agency to visit the EROCs and meet with each individual who wishes to claim previous educational experience.
As we work towards our bureaucratic revolution, we need to create a system that is responsive to the lived, thought, experienced needs refugees face in the integration process. Institutional change should be a tool which allows public servants to help refugees reach their dreams of being fully independent families, active members of their community, and to help 18-year-ods reach their dreams of becoming business-owning estheticians. This bureaucracy needs to reflect the attitude of the individual staff members – one which responds to histories of trauma, aims to understand the needs of those affected, aims towards achieving independence for the families, all the while being conscious of the constraints involved in these processes.
Who knew a bureaucratic revolution could be so compassionate?
Finding Trust by Naod Sebhatleab
Over the past few weeks, I have worked at a transitional school that helps unaccompanied, asylum-seeking minors prepare for Irish secondary school. Work means spending considerable time with students, day-in and day-out—offering classroom assistance, 1-on-1 tutoring, sports after class, field trip supervision, etc. Despite spending all this time together, I don’t actually speak the same language as many of the students. Moreover, the fact that they come from a range of diverse places including Iraq, Syria, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Venezuela means they often don’t speak the same language as each other. Not surprisingly, our time together is filled with large misunderstandings that require much effort to undo. Even making the most basic of requests can be challenging—for both parties. I, as a teacher, desperately yearn to reach a point of understanding with the student, that at once helps the student and validates my contributions to the school. For their part the students grapple with my words, thoroughly puzzled yet determined to provide an accurate response. They make this effort because they so desperately want to realize their own academic possibilities.
These challenging interactions have pushed me to rely on behavioral rather than verbal reasoning. I try to reach a point of understanding with the students by focusing on the emotional and psychological reasons behind their actions, and accommodate and respond to those as best I can. In this way, I feel as though I am better able to get the feedback I need to help them get to where they want to go.
I consider why and how they say what they say as much as what they actually say. I get to know what they like and what they don’t like, their sensitivities and their strengths. In my experience, the feedback gathered at this level allows me to understand them better as human beings (regardless of language). It has also proved to be very useful in establishing trust among the group. This trust is a key in facilitating open, attentive, and earnest conversations between myself and the students. In short, it has made it possible for the students to be at ease with me. With this kind of relationship, I am able to move amongst the students with ease and free from the suspicion that can sometimes cloud their judgment of new adults they meet. More importantly, I have been able to create meaningful bonds with students where I might otherwise have been limited to impersonal interactions.
This is not to say, that I have discovered the secret to teaching, but rather to highlight an underrated aspect of engaging with students, especially ones coming from such different backgrounds. In an environment where consequences are rarely clear and student engagement is optional these kinds of relationships can lead to a willingness to lean in and an eagerness to learn.
Establishing trust with the students means being open to what they have to say, refraining from condescending judgments, and constantly trying to put oneself in their positions. The effort is well worth it. I have seen students develop legitimate attachment to their instructors and a clear desire to pay that same respect back. With students from such radically different cultural backgrounds this desire takes many forms. One of my students insisted on buying me coffee after one extremely honest conversation. He knew that I was genuinely looking to understand him. This was the reason he responded with such warmth. Another student surprised me by trying to give me a 10-euro gift—a staggering amount of money given his 20-euro weekly allowance—following a series of highly stimulating, but very off-topic conversations during math class. He wanted to know all about my life in California. He expressed a desire to travel himself. The incredible enthusiasm with which he talked about these things made it impossible to ask him to stop. Instead, I would wait until he finished, offer serious words of encouragement, and then move on. Here and elsewhere I was trying to send the message to my students that I value their wellbeing as much as I care about their performance in the class.
Of course, flattering as they are, these gestures of generosity on the part of my students are not my goal. Rather, this energy and their desire to reciprocate often leads to something more—an invigorated class environment. Students try harder to engage with instruction once we establish a relationship of mutual respect and consideration.
I understand that this practice can be tricky. I also understand that if this is done poorly, the line between teacher and friend can be blurred. Finally, I also realize that students need to get in the habit of responding to respectfully to authority. However, in an environment that, despite our best efforts, students are frequently misunderstood and increasingly isolated from the channels of self-expression these basic human connections can go a long way. In the school, students have often been uprooted from their homes as well as the emotional resources associated with family and community. Consequently, establishing oneself as a someone who can be trusted to be human amidst a sea of unfamiliar faces can endear a teacher to a student in ways that are truly powerful—even in a classroom setting. Students profoundly appreciate being made to feel comfortable.
At the end of the day some people may well agree with that there is a need for these kinds of human connections, but object to the idea that this should occur during instructional time, like it did in that math class I mentioned. To those people I say, the benefit of gaining a student’s trust, in my experience, has generally outweighed the marginal improvement they could have made with their long division in that time span. My brief time at the school has led me to believe, if you have an opportunity to reach that level of trust with a student, you take it.
Narratives and Stories by Caroline Wang
This past Tuesday, my fellow DukeEngage members and I honored World Refugee Day by attending an event hosted by the Dublin City Interfaith Forum, which highlighted refugee stories of faith and hope. This event was accompanied by a slideshow of artist-drawn images depicting the migration process. While each work of art shed a unique light on the refugee experience, the image that stuck out to me most was a sketch of a girl drowning in the ocean, weighed down by a television screen broadcasting news commentary. It’s been three days and I still can’t get that image out of my head.
Throughout the past week, I’ve thought a lot about the role that media plays in shaping what we believe to be the refugee experience. In the United States, most of the information that I hear regarding refugees and migration comes from national news outlets. I could argue that some media outlets handle the crisis better than others, but I don’t believe I could name a single one that hasn’t placed a strong emphasis on negative reporting. These are the headlines that we are inundated with – tales of hate crimes and terrorist attacks and bloodshed. The problem with this method of journalism is that the public isn’t told anything that it didn’t already know about the refugee crisis.
With nearly 65 million people in the world falling under the category of “refugee,” it’s incredibly naïve of us to believe that we have heard all of their stories. So then, why do we keep hearing the same narratives every day? The repeated stories we hear of loss, separation, and terror lead many individuals to either pity or loathe those involved in the crisis. While I will never understand the vitriolic response to refugees that some people have, pity is easier to understand. The stories we hear regarding these individuals are often so negative that we may believe that this group of nearly 65 million people is entirely helpless. However, this is often not the case, and most refugees don’t want our pity any more than they want our hate.
At the same event, a Syrian refugee shared some of her experiences in Ireland. She spoke of the incredible opportunities she’s had since her arrival, and how she is now a small business owner and entirely self-sufficient. On the verge of tears, she felt the need to emphasis that she is not a burden on anyone. The word “burden” comes up a lot in the debates surrounding the refugee crisis, as if these aren’t remarkably resilient people self-motivated by the thought of a better, safer life. In Ireland, many refugee minors perform extremely well in the education system. Like the event speaker who now runs her own business, refugees who can enter the job market often contribute greatly to society. These people are far from being burdens, or terrorists, or whatever else sensationalist media portrays them as. They are complex humans who deserve to live without the social stigma that being a refugee carries.
Instead of broadcasting negative news, which highlights differences, I would hope that media outlets would seek to portray the refugee experience in all of its fullness or as much as is possible. This kind of coverage would allow readers to see refugees as people like themselves. This kind of coverage, moreover, is critical to changing opinion and breaking down prejudice. Indeed, these newcomers deserve to have their lives–which are as complicated and nuanced as our own–acknowledged, rather than merely pitied or criticized.
Childhood and Age by Hannah Palczuk
While the old adage “age is just a number” is applicable to much of life, it certainly does not apply to the legalities of the asylum process. In the past four weeks that I have been stationed with the Social Work Team for Separated Children Seeking Asylum, which cares for unaccompanied minors in Ireland, three asylum seekers have been age-assessed and determined to be older than eighteen years old. Whether they knew the benefits of being considered a minor in the Irish asylum process and lied to immigration officials or were confused when the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) referred them to us, they are now in hostels and direct provision centers, additions to the faceless numbers waiting patiently to make their cases to stay in Ireland.
And yet, despite the privileges that being younger than eighteen provides in the system, most of the young people I work with by and far reject the term “child” in its colloquial sense. When I once unwittingly referred to one of our clients as a child, he seemed offended and promptly quipped that if he was a child, I was a grandmother.
Though his remark was obviously hyperbolic, the young man was correct in that we had different standards of maturity and concepts of age. While eighteen is the age of adulthood in Ireland and the US, it seems arbitrary to those from different cultures where sixteen year olds are not considered children and might even be parents. I understand that there needs to be a set number for legal adulthood because people can follow slippery slope logic to the extreme, but some fifteen year olds are equipped with the skills of adulthood and some nineteen year olds (like this one) are still figuring it out.
While clients might fall under the legal category of “child,” they have had to mature quicker than most of us. One of our clients is a twenty year-old who has been acting in loco parentis for his younger brother since the two arrived, and more recently for the rest of his siblings and mom after the Red Cross helped locate and reunify them. He has been acting like an adult since age thirteen, has known greater responsibility and pressure than most people experience in a lifetime, and yet has the same outwardly carefree and youthful disposition as others his age.
Some of our newer clients arrived in Ireland as part of the Irish Refugee Protection Program (IRPP) after having spent months in the Calais Jungle camps and having left home years before that. They have survived brutal living conditions alone and lived without supervision for much of their lives. I am not trying to suggest that the young people I work with are in any way stunted – they are incredibly resilient and talented, and they have much to offer Dublin in terms of economic and cultural value. However I do believe that in the race for the legal status that can jumpstart many of our clients’ lives after years of waiting, important foundational development can be neglected.
As children age out of our system and into aftercare at age eighteen, how do we simultaneously prepare them for adulthood, acknowledge their right to proper childhoods (whatever this entails), and avoid belittling them or babying them after all that they have experienced?
In terms of development and maturation, is it possible to regress for the sake of progress? Should these young people be given the opportunity to experience some of the carefreeness that they might have missed out on and that we associate with youth? Do they want that?
The Social Work Team’s guiding ideology is that of child-centeredness, meaning its members view and treat clients as children before they see them as asylum seekers. After having spent four weeks seeing what this translates to in everyday practice, I believe that it really is the best policy for the young people in our care. Child-centeredness informs social workers’ everyday agendas as they schedule dental appointments for their clients, sign them up for sports clubs, file their legal proceedings for them, and encourage them to think about education and their futures. The social workers cannot replace the void of missing parents, but they can help young people feel supported throughout the emotional and logistical challenges of the asylum process. Anyone, regardless of age and maturity level, finds comfort in the idea that someone else holds their best interest at heart.
The Monster Under the Bed by Saheel Chodavadia
The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) at the Department of Justice and Equality.
Evil. Corrupt. Lazy. Fascists.
Direct Provision Accommodation Centres.
Prison. Concentration Camp. Isolation. Death Row.
I haven’t met a nicer monster.
RIA is an agency within the Department of Justice and Equality in Ireland that focuses on asylum seeker accommodation and provision, including providing for social welfare allowances, free room and board, and a number of other complimentary services including but not limited to utility, food, laundry, literacy services, religious services, etc.
I am studying psychology at Duke University. Understanding the way perceptions are formed, transformed, mutilated, and juxtaposed is a breathtaking foray into the depths of the human mind and its complex intricacies. Despite these complexities of the mind, people still subject RIA to the simplest of mentalities, the mob mentality.
Often people make the mistake of thinking that everything is black and white, that one story is the world. They miss the gray, the infinite stories behind the story, and are satisfied with a scapegoat. RIA has long taken the blame for asylum seeker conditions.
When I found out I would be working at RIA, I immediately scoured the internet for anything mentioning RIA. Nothing but negative commentary. It’s week four now but I remember day one as vividly as yesterday. I walked in, thinking that the office was going to be a monotonous gray space full of regretful, cynical workers. I could not have been more wrong.
To have such low expectations and then to have them shattered so spectacularly and through every ceiling imaginable is mind-bending. I walked inside.
A cacophony of noise. Bustling. Phone calls. Conversations.
A swirl of color. Decorated desks. Well-dressed workers. Open windows.
A plethora of smells. Tea. Cake. Coffee.
And a vibe unmatched. Seriousness. Laughter. Critical Thought.
The most significant thing people forget about RIA is that it’s not an entity, it’s an amalgamation of people. Each individual brings a different perspective to the table and works in tandem with others to bring about change. When people say they dislike RIA, they are saying that they dislike the Principal Officer who bikes to and from work to go to meetings and conventions to continuously improve asylum seeker accommodation centers. They say they the Assistant Principal Officer who meticulously reads through and listens to complaints and spends hours brainstorming how to resolve the situation. They say they dislike the Higher Executive Officer who takes calls with contractors non-stop to ensure everything is running smoothly in the centers. They say they dislike Clerical Officer who has already become proficient at contractor relations only a year in. They say they dislike the twenty or so other people involved with RIA, each with their own individual lives trying to make the best of the situation they are in. The people are great, sure, but why does that not translate into maximum happiness for asylum seekers in accommodation centers?
Resources. As a government agency, or for that matter any agency, RIA is limited by the resources it has or has been given. There is no infinite pool of housing and staff and food and electricity to draw from. Each provision provided has to be methodically reviewed within a supply chain that must be reliable and sustainable.
The Direct Provision system is not perfect, not even close. And yet, the people of RIA are doing everything in their power and sometimes even beyond that to improve and ensure that the lives of the asylum seekers are as comfortable and as independent as possible. The McMahon Report Recommendations are almost realized and RIA has been working non-stop to catalyze a nationwide shift from a Dining Hall system of food distribution with pre-prepared meals to a Food Hall system with food available for cooking at home. This is the work of the people of RIA.
Someone in RIA once told me “I do not tell people I work at RIA because I do not want to cause problems”.
At a certain point, you have to wonder if all the terrible atrocities people associate RIA with are as malignant as the people are to RIA. In this mind-bending game of perception, the people have embraced RIA as the scapegoat for any asylum-seeker related problem. With an unrivaled, sometimes perilous self-righteousness in NGOs, RIA has become a nightmare that is truly working to a dream.
Coming from the United States and the current government, I can understand the citizens’ need to be critical of government proceedings. Yet, to be ignorant and blinded by the mob mentality of hatred towards RIA solely for its status as a government agency, is something that NGOs and the people need to realize may be causing more harm than good. RIA focuses on cooperation, with asylum seekers living in the Direct Provision System, and with other agencies and groups willing to work to make the Direct Provision System as comfortable as possible. And yet, in this tumultuous war against RIA, the people have decided to fight instead of cooperate. It is time to embrace cooperation. It is time for perceptions to change. It is time to remember that RIA is a group of people and they are people with good intentions. It is time to realize that the monster under the bed is not always scary.
Finding a Path Among Endless Possibilities by Steve Hassey
“Are Scouts dark?”
Michelle, a 7-year-old girl looks up at me with large, questioning eyes. Joshua, a boy of 8, pulls at my arm—he wants to leave Clondalkin Towers, the direct provision center where he lives, for the Scouting den where we will be hosting a meeting that evening. I pull away from Joshua to turn back toward Michelle, my frantic motion betraying my shock as I fail to keep my cool.
My mind is moving quickly. I ask Michelle to repeat what she had just asked. She asks the same question and, as I freeze with a sudden indecision about how to deal with this tricky subject, I can feel her impatience grow.
I freeze because this is the exact question I have spent my first two weeks trying to get Scouting Ireland to answer. And on that rainy Tuesday, after two and a half weeks in Ireland, I still don’t know.
Michelle is a person of color, just like every other child I will be leading from Clondalkin Towers, a direct provision center that houses asylum seekers who are attempting to resettle in Ireland without the resources to live on their own. We are going to the local Scouting Den to interact with a group of Beavers, Scouts aged between 6 and 8, that is entirely composed of white children. RIA, a part of Ireland’s Department of Justice, has funded this program as a way to increase interactions between asylum seekers and Irish nationals.
This summer, I am working with Scouting Ireland, an organization of 50,000 that, as far as I can tell from my own limited experiences, is a relatively homogenous group filled with middle class white children. In three short words, Michelle has found a way to voice my every concern about the organization I am serving, and everything that I would hope to change about it.
Throughout my short time in Ireland, I have heard plenty of talk about Ireland’s increasing diversity. This past Thursday, Muyre, a coordinator at a school whose children I work with every week and a native Dubliner, explained to me that she did not see a black person until she was 8, and now she works with students of color every day. But, as Ireland continues to grow in terms of cultural diversity, the question remains how these newcomers will integrate into Irish culture, and how welcoming the Irish will be. The programs on which I am conducting research present just one path out of endless possibilities through which to accomplish this.
Upon entering the Scouting Den, the children from Clondalkin Towers were immediately taken aback and did not want to join the circle of scouts, in part because the leader, Aiman, was in the midst of briefing his scouts.
This immediately created the uncomfortable image of the white children in a circle on one side of the room, and the children of color opposite them. As I look at Michelle in this situation, I knew her question has been answered. Without the demographic diversity to reflect the surrounding communities, Scouts may be an uncomfortable place to minorities within the Irish community.
After overcoming these barriers to inclusion, the scouts and children from the direct provision center split into four groups to complete the activities planned for the day. They get to know each other through icebreakers and learn about the food of each other’s cultures. A final, striking moment from Tuesday’s meeting came at its end. The children from Clondalkin Towers had been incessantly asking us the week prior for a neckerchief, the ultimate sign of Scouting. As we gave each child their own neckerchief, pairs of eyes lit up.
Each of these children—Irish or asylum seeker, black or white, boy or girl—has a different background, a different story to tell. My task is to teach them to listen to and value the stories of others; this is the only way that they will truly learn beyond the scope of the classroom, and beyond the scope of their homes. Only through listening and interacting can the Scouts escape the label of asylum seeker to appreciate the complex humanity of their peers at Clondalkin Towers.
Interculturalism in practice through youth work will always be uncomfortable. Children will have to learn to push their own boundaries and to learn when they have crossed a line. Ireland will have to work to create inclusive spaces where people will feel safe and comfortable regardless of their identities. As Ireland becomes more diverse, this intercultural exchange will only become more important.
Moving Beyond Labels by Shweta Lodha
Over the last few days, I have been working at SPIRASI, Ireland’s only NGO devoted to providing education, integration, and rehabilitation services to adult asylum seekers or refugee victims of torture and trauma. In preparation to teach my own English class on health literacy, I have recently been serving as an assistant English teacher to students with little to no proficiency in the language.
The first time I walked in to a SPIRASI classroom, I saw only a sea of culturally diverse migrants. Labels like the “North Korean student,” “the Iranian refugee,” and “Syrian asylum seeker” came to me instinctively, as I unwittingly matched their countries of origin to reflect their entire identity. However, with every passing day, I am beginning to understand exactly how limiting this type of perspective can be. While I have much more to learn about the students, when I walk in to the classroom now, I see Nona, the sweet, elderly woman with a talent for baking, matched in intensity only by her developed knowledge of current events. I see Joban, our goofy and fun-loving class-clown who picks up novel vocabulary words with a speed unmatched by most. I see Samuel, a connoisseur of music and lover of dance, currently in the process of releasing yet another album. Day after day, I am coming to better understand the wide array of personalities, experiences, and cultural backgrounds all clumped together under the single word, “refugee.” *names modified to maintain privacy of clients*
While I feel I am finally starting to form relationships that trespass the confinements of identity labels, I have so much more to learn about the students. My personal desire to solve the puzzle of the students’ unique identities incentivizes me to continue teaching them as much English as possible. The more I teach them, the better they are able to express themselves, and consequently, help me understand who they truly are. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” It wasn’t until I started to work with individuals whose expression of self was confined to the limited set of words they knew that I recognized the truth encapsulated by Wittgenstein’s words.
As I contemplate what it truly means to be a refugee or asylum seeker through my work, I reflect upon my own identity. Growing up to immigrant parents, I have often danced between two different cultures. While Hindi was my first language, I was fortunate to have gone to a school that taught me English from a young age. As I work with students limited in their English but rich in their cultural backgrounds, I am beginning to recognize the influential role language has played in my own bicultural upbringing. With words, I have felt empowered to paint a picture of the culturally disparate grounds that have bred many of my own unique values, beliefs, and thoughts. As the weeks go on, I hope to continue providing my students with English language tools for them to similarly express themselves to the world and in turn, make Ireland their own.
Though part of my job is to help teach English and eventually implement my own health literacy course, the students have taught me much more about the gravity of strong language and communication skills than I could ever hope to demonstrate during our lessons. As I go forward, I hope to further understand the undefinable quality of words like refugee and asylum seeker.
Journey of the Heart by Bill McCarthy
“Migration is a journey of the heart,” said the Rev. Alan Hilliard, chaplaincies coordinator for the Dublin Institute of Technology, during a recent interfaith forum on refugee stories. It is a trial of emotions – a business heavy and hard – but also an opportunity for growth.
In Ireland, an ever-diversifying nation that in 2016 saw more immigration than emigration, refugee and migrant stories are becoming increasingly relevant to the national narrative. Particularly valuable are the contributions of men and women too young to remember the more homogenous Ireland of centuries past. For these young people – both those born in country and those having arrived from elsewhere – Ireland is a diverse collection of religions, races, beliefs and nationalities. They believe in an Ireland that is entirely their own, and many of them hold that Ireland dear to their hearts.
Metro Éireann, Ireland’s first and only bimonthly multicultural newspaper and the organization with which I will be spending my summer, paints an integrative picture of this modern version of Ireland. Having operated since its conception as a forum for intercultural communication, Metro Éireann offers an avenue through which migrant peoples can have their stories shared.
Editor Chinedu Onyejelem, himself an immigrant from Nigeria, understands at his core that the Irish narrative would not be so dynamic without the many migrant and minority communities in and outside of Dublin. His mission, it seems, is to shed light on the individual migrant experiences that together make up this narrative – to probe the hearts and tell the stories of those whose tales are typically forsaken.
Each individual experiences his or her own version of Ireland. Each has a unique sense of belonging – an individually tailored conception of community and culture. Each has his or her own story of stagnation or migration – of home and of Ireland – and each has his or her own capacity to make that story known.
I want to help make those stories known. I want to make at least a modest contribution towards dialogue and understanding during my time in Ireland. With my work at Metro Éireann, I may have that chance. This summer marks the third consecutive during which Metro Éireann will host an intercultural writing competition in collaboration with the Kenan Institute of Ethics. This summer, like in the previous two, a Duke student has been tasked with organizing this competition. It is my turn to take on the project and, though sometimes intimidated by the scope of the challenge, I will do my best to plan an event that honors the newspaper’s commitment to giving migrants and minorities a voice.
The writing competition invites young writers between the ages of 14 and 21 to submit original works of fiction that explore the ethical challenges associated with intercultural diversity in Ireland. It is an effort aimed at integration, designed to foster the development of the next generation of Irish writers while at the same time enriching Irish intercultural life. Ultimately, the goal is to enable young people – and particularly young migrants – to tell their stories.
The writing process, of course, will daunt, baffle and dishearten many young adults, and the challenge for me will be to help them trust that their words hold value. I imagine that those for whom English is not a first language will feel especially intimidated. My hope, though, is that these individuals will come to our workshop sessions, engage with their struggle, and recognize the power of storytelling. My hope is that they will link their mind to their heart and write from the depths of their experiences.
Above all, my hope is that they will come to understand that migration is indeed a journey of the heart, and that they will tell us the way in which their hearts experienced such a journey. I want to know their migrations; I want to know their hearts; I want to know their conceptions of Ireland.
I want to know their stories.
Shared Culture, Shared Identity? by Mary Aline Fertin
The construction of a supportive community and integration into the local population are two sides of the relocation coin that migrants to any new destination must learn to handle. In thinking about how it is possible to balance these efforts, I keep coming back to the issue of constructing identity, and how one’s identity is shaped by and informs their perception of the world around them. Specifically, What is Irishness? Who claims this belonging? And how does our construction of an Irish identity impact the integration process for migrant populations?
In our orientation meetings with historians, public servants, and social scientists, a frustrating but exciting common thread has emerged: there is no definitive answer to any of these questions, but we should keep trying to answer them.
As a starting point, some have made a link between Irish identity and ancestry. Ireland’s unique history is an immense factor in this association. This island has long been fairly homogeneous, leading Irish identity to be confounded with an ethnic typecast. Due to the Irish diaspora – a scattering of the population across the world following the great famine – approximately 17 million people across the world have Irish heritage. Irish is said to run in people’s veins. So much so, in fact, that the concept of an Irish-American identity is very present in the United States – the sense of community has been preserved. A focus has been placed on creating a global Irish connection, by creating online portals for families with Irish heritage to connect with one another, or prompting initiatives for individuals to discover their Irish heritage.
Yet, I am not sure that a purely ethnic or ancestry-based framework encompasses enough of what it means to be Irish. It seems to me that this point of view would make integration for migrant communities nearly impossible. Furthermore, Ireland is facing strong immigration flows from within and outside the EU: in a country of 4.7 million residents, 79,300 immigrants a year is a staggering number (a net immigration total of 3,100, with very significant emigration flows at 76,200, according to the Central Statistics Office’s Population and Migration Estimates from 2016). With approximately 12% of the population comprised of foreign nationals, it seems absurd to rely solely on ancestry to determine belonging.
So, perhaps a shared culture is the key to a shared identity? In just a week here, it has become clear that my outsider’s perception of Irish culture – beer, leprechauns, shamrocks, and hurling – has been wildly misguided. These symbols appear to be fondly regarded, but are understood to be more of a capitalist venture for Irish tourism than markers of identity. Here, the British colonial past will have a much fiercer influence than this constructed mythology. Colonial symbols still line the streets of Dublin, the King’s crown prominent in various monuments, and the letters VR (for Queen Victoria Regina) frequently seen around the city. The buildings lining O’Connell street were built in the 20th century, but appear much older as they were reconstructed from the rubble left in the wake of the anti-colonial Easter Rising of 1916. The largest political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gail, emerged from opposing sides of the civil war between post-colonial pro-treaty and anti-treaty forces. As such, one conception of Irish identity could be largely based on the ideas of conflict, independence, and colonial tension (this will be interesting to explore as Ireland is currently trying to determine its place in the EU and in relation to the UK post-Brexit). Furthermore, this is a form of community construction that is significantly more welcoming to migrant families: when children are integrated into Irish schools, this historical perspective will be passed on to the second generation.
However, this must be tempered by the recognition that we live in increasingly complex and multifaceted societies. Ireland’s net positive immigration, particularly the strong refugee flows from areas in crises, will be bringing in a huge variety of culture, religions, historical perspectives. In fact, the sense of colonial tension may already be shared by a number families who emigrated from former colonial nations. Perhaps this sense of Irish identity, which is so vibrant and tangible amongst the proud population yet so difficult to define, is evolving to signify an accepting multiculturalism. It has been thrilling to witness how Dublin itself is constructed around a blend of cultures – a Catholic Polish church is built next to an Anglican one, and they confusingly share the same name, and a small but vibrant polish community resides right by the Millenium Spire. Dublin is home to the second largest mosque in Europe, and the senior staff member I spoke to emphasized that the Irish were very welcoming, likely due to their own experience with mass emigration. The challenge ahead for the organizations we are placed in this summer, working in resettlement and integration, now seems to lie in how to aid migrants in their transition to Irish society whilst promoting a culture which will, in the end, broaden its definition of community rather than restrict itself to a difficulty defined national identity.
Dubliners Then and Now by Hannah Palczuk
Our group of Duke students swerved through stopped traffic near the Dublin GPO, protected by bright blue helmets and safety vests that immediately labeled us as tourists. It was June 16th, Bloomsday, a celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses and a reason for many locals to leave work early and head to the pub. We however were on a bike tour of the city structured around James’ 1914 collection of short stories, Dubliners, accompanied by a guide named Alice who pedaled rather quickly considering that she was in an ankle-length skirt and cowboy boots. As we stopped in various neighborhoods where Joyce himself had lived, we listened to excerpts from “The Boarding House,” “An Encounter,” and “Eveline.”
In “Eveline,” a young woman is torn between following the man that wants to marry her and take her to Buenos Aires or staying to care for her abusive father and younger siblings in Dublin. In the final scene, she is physically and emotionally paralyzed, pinned in place on the dock as the ship leaves without her. Alice explained that paralysis was an important theme in Joyce’s stories about Dublin, as he believed the city itself to be trapped in time and held back by tradition, the Church, and its relationship with England. As a boy, he had wanted to escape Dublin, despite the special place it held in his heart. Joyce eventually left Dublin by the same port as his fictional character Eveline, traveling around Europe before seeking asylum in Switzerland.
While Dublin in the early twentieth century might have felt static to an artist as avant-garde as Joyce, it is harder to define now, propelled forward by new cultures and avenues of communication. If Joyce had written about Dubliners today, I wonder what the composition of his group of characters would be. Likely there would be people of different races, gender identities, sexual orientations, and religious backgrounds. But perhaps there would be that same feeling of hopelessness for many, particularly Dublin’s growing population of refugees and asylum seekers. Though they might not be trapped in their home countries, they probably feel stuck in the asylum process itself as they wait in direct provision centers, only recently gaining the right to work as they anticipate their case decisions. The slowness of the city and of bureaucracy can hinder efforts to reconnect with family, culture, and community.
This stasis is a part of the process of migration that is often overlooked, but some of the organizations we will be working with this summer seek to address it. The office I am placed at works with separated children, those under age eighteen who entered Ireland to seek asylum and now are in the care of the state until their claims are processed. Though I have only briefly met some of the social workers I will learn from this summer, I am already impressed by how well they know the children placed in their care, and the emphasis they place upon children being treated as children before they are treated as asylum seekers. I am hopeful that efforts like this can help make the waiting period for asylum seekers seem less restrictive so that the city I have had the privilege of experiencing is available to all Dubliners.