‘I escaped to Ireland from a state of tyranny, and Ireland has taken great care of me’
2018-07-15 15:44:52 -
Immigration
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The Integration Question with Princess Pamela Toyin

When Asad Mahmud arrived in Ireland in 2015, forced to flee his homeland after writing a book that dismayed the authorities, little did he know that three years down the line he would be writing for another. 

The 35-year-old law graduate, writer and human rights activist fled Pakistan after co-authoring a book titled Revenge, which highlighted the issue of child molestation by teachers in religious schools in that country.

Up to that point, Asad had already done a lot of public interest litigation, including challenging corruption in a laptop scheme launched by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. These and other actions, such as challenging Sharif’s nomination papers before the 2013 elections, and questioning the eligibility of the then-foreign minister defaulting on his electricity bills, meant that he was already a nuisance before the publication of Revenge made him a target.

“This book actually got us negative attention so we had to run from the extremist elements in Pakistan who wanted to kill [both me and my co-author Waheed Mohiuddin]. That’s why we came to Ireland, to seek refuge.”

“I escaped to Ireland from a state of tyranny, and Ireland has taken great care of me, and embraced me like a mother would embrace her son.”
Yet despite the relative safety of Ireland, Asad was faced with the challenges of living in direct provision after submitting his application for asylum. At the time, asylum seekers were prevented from seeking employment, and they still face restriction on accessing higher education. “Plus the length of time a single asylum case takes here is exhaustive,” Asad said.

The situation pushed the enthusiastic spirit in Asad to start working on a voluntary capacity, and to give voice to the thousands of other asylum seekers living in direct provision centres across Ireland.

“I always wanted to work for human rights issues, which I did in Pakistan, and I’m doing the same here in Ireland,” he says of Here, There, In Between, a collection of creative writing which reflects the experiences of Asad and others living at the Kinsale Road direct provision centre in Cork city.

“Here, There, In Between is about the people who have been displaced and were forced to seek refuge in Ireland,” says Asad, whose asylum life and those of his co-authors Noman Sattar, Izzeddeen Alkarajeh, Abdiaziz Musa and Asad’s wife Zoya Zoya are equally reflected in the book. “The launch of book is just a part of making our voices heard. A lot is still needed to be done.”

With the support of Cork City Libraries, the project has been warmly received, with its authors awarded a certificate of accomplishment by Senator Kelleher. “[Integration Minister] David Stanton, just with one call, was ready to meet us and he arrived at the meeting in a very down-to-earth manner,” Asad recalls.

An invitation by Alex Cooke of the British Embassy to a meeting on tackling extremism in Ireland was also an encouraging experience for Asad and his co-authors. “These people are willing to talk to the public in order to shape the policy of the country, whereas in Pakistan you cannot imagine such a healthy environment.”

Asad led a very successful demonstration on the issues facing asylum seekers, which was given good coverage in the Irish media. “We demonstrated as a group for the rights of asylum seekers generally. We demanded the right to work, education and nationality. Our demonstration actually started a good debate on various levels in Ireland.” 

Soon after the demonstration, Asad noted that new procedures were introduced to grant limited rights to work for asylum seekers. Now Ireland has opted into the EU directive that provides much wider access to the labour market for those facing an extended wait for a decision on their status, as well as access to education up to Fetac Level 6. “I might learn something new in that scheme, and I am looking for a job now,” he says.

After three years in Ireland, Asad’s asylum case is still under consideration, but he remains hopeful for a positive outcome. “Ireland gives me new hope about life and freedom of speech. I came here with my friend without any family members but I met my lovely wife Zoya here and she is the only family I have here.”

In the meantime, he volunteers as a legal and IT executive for the Fine Gael intercultural group in Cork city. “We had a very fruitful meeting with Integration Minister David Stanton, to whom we forwarded our suggestion on improving integration issues.” 

Asad believes he has integrated well into his community, despite the issues that persist around direct provision, and says he has never encountered any racist incident. “Ireland is a friendly and encouraging society, and if you have some potential in you, then a difference can be made with a little effort,” he adds.

Asad feels he has made his home in Ireland, and hopes to remain here permanently. But far from leaving his asylum-seeker experience behind, he intends to start an NGO highlighting issues relating to asylum in Ireland, a topic he already writes about on his website www.asylumireland.ml.

“I just love Ireland … as it feels like home here. It is a society of the living with vibrating beings. People are not dead here, they are full of love, empathy and encouragement.”

- Princess Pamela Toyin is a journalist, author and TV presenter who has gained experience since the mid 1980s working in various fields and interacting with people of different tribes and ethnicity. With her passion for diversity, she is propelled to report a diverse range of issues that facilitate intercultural dialogue and integration, which can change social, economic, and cultural stereotypes, and believes there are lessons to be learned from everyone. Talk to her on +353 (0) 87 417 9640 or email echoesmediainternational@gmail.com
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