DESPITE living in the U.S on and off over the last few years, I was under the impression that I had a fairly good understanding of Ireland’s social issues.
I would inform my American friends about the housing and homelessness crises back home. Like so many others, I would watch the U.S news detailing the treatment of Mexican and South American immigrants at the Texas-Mexico border and feel real disgust. The cruelty and ignorance was shocking.
Imagine my discomfort when, upon returning to Ireland, I was faced with my own ignorance regarding the Irish asylum-seeker system of accommodation.
I had to confront certain questions in order to learn more: What exactly was involved in this system known as ‘direct provision’? It had been in existence for 20 years — how did I know so little about it?
It turned out that I wasn’t alone in my ignorance. My retired schoolteacher parents could tell me very little about it, despite there being a direct provision centre 30 minutes from their house.
My friends, who were vocal about their opinions on the marriage referendum and Repeal campaigns, were at a loss as to the intricacies of the direct provision system.
I mention this not to excuse my own ignorance, but to illustrate something I have come to realise; there is a lack of basic understanding surrounding direct provision amongst many people in Ireland, and I think I can understand why.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, anyone could see that most people were stretched. If I wasn’t talking to one family member about the cost of childcare, I was talking to another about their difficulty securing a mortgage — or I was wondering if I, now in my early thirties, would ever be afforded the opportunity to worry about either.
We have a lot on our plate already, and few of us wanted to go out of our way to add another heavy item to it.
The fact is that direct provision does not directly impact on the day to day life of most Irish people. But that is not because it doesn’t matter or because we shouldn’t care. It is a result of its very design.
Most of the almost 40 direct provision centres in Ireland are located in isolated, rural areas, keeping those seeking asylum on the outer fringes of communities.
Up until 2018, an asylum-seeker in this country could not work, denying them an important opportunity to integrate.
Even now, though a right to work exists, it is not available to every asylum-seeker.
How many people seeking asylum in Ireland have you spoken to recently? Before I began this project, my answer would have been none.
Another reason for the lack of general knowledge on direct provision is the complexity of the system itself. It is not easily understood.
I spent the best part of three months researching it for a podcast on the issue, and I am not ashamed to admit I needed outside assistance to make sense of it. I enlisted the help of the smartest people I know and even they were sometimes baffled.
While my understanding of the system is by no means academic, it is sound, and, importantly, it is accessible.
I condensed my three months of research into an accessible podcast that anyone from any walk of life or political persuasion can listen to and learn from. It features the voices of people seeking asylum, academics and experts on the subject as well as the general public.
I asked musicians to create an original soundtrack for it — Cork artist Spekulativ Fiktion made the beats and logo.
In short, I have produced the podcast I had been looking for when I first began to ask questions about direct provision myself.
During my research, I met many people currently in the system. In exchange for their honesty, I promised to protect their identity.
One man’s story, in particular, stuck with me. It is featured in an extended form in the second episode of the podcast. We’ll call him Ahmed, which is not his real name.
Ahmed’s story began when he travelled to the UK to study ten years ago, in his early twenties. While he was studying he met a woman from his home country who was also there to study and the two fell in love.
Their story should have been a romantic tale of happenstance to tell the grandchildren. Instead, a chain of events followed that is beyond imaginable for most people, resulting in the young couple seeking asylum in Ireland.
They have lived — not allowed to work — in a direct provision centre in this country for four and a half years. Three and a half years ago their daughter was born. The family have just been issued a deportation order. They must go to a country where their lives are in danger, a country the three and a half-year-old girl has never set foot in.
There are more than 6,000 people in the direct provision system in Ireland today. While it may not directly impact your life right now, it does exist (sometimes just down the road from you).
Direct provision is real, and is a reflection of who we are as a society. With calls to it growing louder as the pandemic plays out, it is more important than ever that we understand exactly what it is, and why and how it began.
Modern Problem is avaliable on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Sticher.