‘We can all contribute to this country if we are given equal opportunity’
2015-10-15 14:42:15 -
Immigration
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Princess Pamela Toyin

 

The typical day of a man in his 40s is productive, but Lucky Khambula’s is different. His days consist largely of recreational activities, engaging in social media, watching TV and hanging around with others like him. But that’s not out of choice: Lucky is forbidden from working in Ireland, as an asylum seeker and a resident of one of the country’s many direct provision centres.

 

Lucky’s personal narrative of life in direct provision highlights some of the gripping experiences often associated with refugees and asylum seekers  awaiting decisions on their fate. A vital element of such experiences is the psychological effect resulting from often unimaginable circumstances of their lives, and that which challenges their future survival.

 

Leaving his family back home in South Africa, 48-year-old Lucky came to Ireland in 2013 “to seek protection due to the political problems I faced in my country,” he says. Since April of the same year, he has been living at a direct provision centre in Cork, one of the residential institutions provided for by the State (but run by private operators) ostensibly to cater for the welfare of asylum seekers.

 

Though Lucky has only lived at the centre for just over two years, he says a significant number of others in a similar situation to his have waited for over six years with no clue as to their future. As far as Lucky is concerned, direct provision “is just a system that is discriminative and is profit-making scheme for a selected group of people.” 

 

While Lucky awaits a decision on his asylum application, he laments the limited opportunities available to him – barred from taking up employment and obstructed in accessing further education in what some asylum seekers call the Irish ‘one size does not fit all’ system. Not only voiceless in society, with limited legal rights, asylum seekers in direct provision do not even have the choice of what food they eat. Meals are provided three times a day at set time, and any saving of food or cooking for oneself is strictly forbidden.

 

“Honestly, the food is not that good,” says Lucky. “They can’t get it right for 350 people.” He shares his unhappiness with his situation because “the place can be frustrating at times”. 

 

This frustration comes in different forms, which include living in cramped conditions, sometimes three people sharing a single room with others from cultures alien to theirs, thus infringing on each other’s right to privacy. Often residents are moved to protest to force the management to effect changes that are important to them.

 

“We forced them to reduce occupants of a room to at most two people, and families to be allocated more than one room so that the adults do not sleep with children in one room,” says Lucky. “Due to our own demands, the centre now has a bus that shuttles children to and back from school, and we now have a soccer team that plays in a local six-a-side league.” Lucky volunteers as a coach of that team, giving him some agency in a life without much room to make his own decisions.

 

And he is gravely concerned for the children growing up around him in the direct provision system. “Children born here only know the life in direct provision and are not allowed to grow as normal children,” he says. “This will affect them in years to come.” He sees for himself the effects of several years in direct provision centre on other residents, and the negative impacts on their mental health.

 

Lucky’s own background is in life insurance and as a financial advisor with over 16 years’ experience. He’s just one of countless other professionals like computer programmers, doctors, journalists, engineers and lecturers confined to these centres, their skills and training being wasted because they’re forbidden to work.

 

“We can all contribute to the growth of this country if we are given equal opportunity,” he says. “It doesn’t make sense that people are ‘locked in’ for 10 years and more not being allowed to work or study when they could be working and paying taxes and not relying on the State.”

 

Despite all of this, Lucky says he likes the sense of peace and safety in Ireland. But for many asylum seekers, the fear now looms of being totally neglected – or even being deported and replaced – amid the influx of new refugees currently making their way into Europe.

 

“We keep hearing about the immigration crisis in Europe – and we are in solidarity with the fellow immigrants elsewhere,” he says, “but there is a crisis here in Ireland and the focus must not be shifted away from those that are here already who have been waiting for years to be freed.”

 

 

- If you’re an immigrant anywhere in the world and have a story to share, whether on our own behalf or on behalf of someone else, please email echoesmediainternational@gmail.com.

 

 

Princess Pamela Toyin is a journalist and author with over 25 years’ experience in various roles, including as an executive PA to company directors, as a public relations executive, reporter, editor and publisher, research consultant and workshop facilitator.

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