‘Which part of Nigeria is Uganda?” That was the question an Irish man once posed a Ugandan woman in Monaghan a few years ago as they were introducing themselves to each other.
When this gentleman heard the lady was from Uganda, he was sure it was a part of Nigeria. It’s no joke. And indeed in my experience it’s not uncommon for Irish people to think every black person in Ireland is from Nigeria, much like many North Americans I’ve met believe everyone in Africa – which they think is a country, not a continent – speaks Swahili.
It seems that people these days only learn about the world if they have specific interests in places or individuals they need information on. It’s kind of like when an African comes to Ireland as an asylum seeker, and he or she undergoes interviews to ascertain why they want protection here. Most of these interviewers have never set their feet on African soil. They depend on what they hear from the interviewees and more importantly what they search and read on the internet.
Whether or not a given asylum seeker’s story is true is moot when the person charged with verifying the story relies purely on information gleaned from a basic internet search. The practice is highly questionable, indeed.
Before they even get to that chess game, however, asylum seekers in Ireland are accommodated in the direct provision system. It’s not the worst of its kind in Europe nor the world, but it has its issues.
One of them is education, or the lack of it. Asylum seekers in Ireland are not allowed to access third-level education, which is counterproductive. Ireland of all countries must know this, seeing as it has humanitarian and charity organisations involved in Education in Africa and other parts of the developing world.
They will help Africans at home, but when it comes to Africans on their own doorstep, it’s a different story. There isn’t even an effort to teach about Irish culture and history, to the point that some asylum seekers I’ve met couldn’t even tell you the colours of the Irish flag, despite being here for five years or more.
The ban on asylum seekers working in Ireland is also programming them to be unproductive even after they’ve had their applications accepted. You can’t expect someone who has been fed for doing nothing for years on end to spring into the workforce as soon as they get their papers.
Even worse, I have seen reports of some asylum seekers being led into prostitution. It is sad, but what do you expect from people who have passion and ambition but no legal means to work? Not everyone has strong morals or faith to resist such business.
So before we cry over Donald Trump’s plans to built a wall against Mexico or other deplorable acts in the world, let’s turn our attention to the plight of asylum seekers in Ireland and get our own house in order.
Thomas Baganineza is director at TugOfHope.org, a think tank focused on peace building, climate change and humanitarian crises.