With the beginning of lockdown in March our lives were turned on their heads. The very large life I was living in UCD suddenly became very small. As a first-year college student, the taste of freedom that I had grown to love was snatched away. Now my college exams are over, my summer job is not happening, and so I try to fill my long days with cooking, exercising and learning a new language. But I have hope. Knowing that there must be an end to this and tuning in to the news conference every few weeks listening to the latest update has kept that hope alive.
Asylum seekers in Ireland
Asylum seekers in Ireland are not so fortunate. For many, they have no idea when their time in direct provision will come to an end, as they nervously hope that they will eventually be granted refugee status. With this pandemic, we can begin to understand just some of the many hardships asylum seekers face while in direct provision and I think it is something that we should hold on to and use to influence policy change.
A sense of purpose to your day
The hardest thing about lockdown for me has been the lack of purpose I have felt in my daily life, like I’m just waiting for my life to start again. This has left me longing for more college work and exams. They provided structure to my day and a reason to get up and get dressed each morning. I have learned it is much more challenging to convince yourself to get dressed with a purposeless day stretching ahead. I have only lived this reality for two months or so. For the asylum seekers in our direct provision centres, it is a two year on-average experience, with many spending much longer in the system. I am not for a second comparing my situation because they are incomparable, I am merely suggesting that we take advantage of this understanding lockdown has given us and not forget about it or the daily struggles of asylum seekers as we go forward.
Nothing but time
Having lots of free time always felt like a far-away notion. I found myself constantly longing for more and collating lists of things I would do when it arose. Now with nothing but time, I fully appreciate how great it is to be kept busy. I have always loved keeping busy, I love the sense of purpose and self-worth it offers. That is a feeling I won’t take for granted again.
It is a feeling that for some asylum seekers has never been further away. In direct provision, beyond some language and sewing classes, there is very little else to do. Working isn’t possible for everyone and for the first nine months in Ireland it is possible for no one. Cooking and baking aren’t even possible in many of the facilities around the country, where dinners are prepared for people who are used to very different meals.
With long days, weeks, months and even years ahead I cannot imagine how difficult it is to live in direct provision. The people in direct provision are fleeing their countries for an array of reasons, many of which I couldn’t even dream up. They leave their families, friends, jobs, cultures and traditions, the comfort of their native language and a myriad of other difficult things behind and for what kind of new life. One filled with uncertainty, fear, boredom and nothing but time. It is no wonder mental health problems are five times more prominent amongst asylum seekers.
We need to change the system
There is talk of all the changes that will be driven from our experience with COVID-19, from working at home to a remodeled health care system. It is my hope that change will come to direct provision. Like Barack Obama said “we are the ones we have been waiting for”; we must drive this change. Direct provision was implemented twenty plus years ago in a very different Ireland. It was only supposed to have been a temporary thing. The system was not good enough then and it is not good enough now. This new government has promised to bring change to the system. We must ensure that these changes happen.
We cannot allow direct provision to be another side tracked issue. Let’s use our quarantine experiences and the small understanding we have been given of just one of the struggles asylum seekers face to continue the push for change. They deserve so much more than they are being given. Millions of euros are being pumped into the direct provision system. The means are there, we just need to alter the way they are used.