The Monster Under the Bed

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 had read about it. I had heard about it. The Reception and Integration Agency, the monster under the bed.

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.