Overcoming Frontiers

January 2015 has seen little easing of violence in the world at large. And not just “far away”. Not many weeks ago there was an horrific series of attacks in France, leaving 17 innocent civilians dead, plus 3 of those carrying out the attacks. Of course it provoked further calls for tighter restrictions to be placed on immigrants and asylum seekers, and was fuel for the racist French National Front Party.  Yet it was an African Muslim, a refugee awaiting acceptance into the country, who was hailed as a hero for sheltering many shoppers in a cold store of the targeted Jewish supermarket. He was subsequently awarded citizenship within a week.

In Ireland last year there was an increase of 53% in the number of persons seeking asylum, mainly from Pakistan, Nigeria and Albania.   That increase amounts to a total of 1,444 persons seeking asylum compared to 944 in 2013.  One and a half thousand new arrivals would hardly figure if they were all part of a crowd at a Croke Park match! It is a tiny number in comparison to the numbers on the borders of Turkey, or those crossing the Mediterranean by boat from North Africa to Italy. This is the first increase in a number of years.
Meanwhile the same report said that 47,700 Irish left the country, and although we don’t know the reasons, we can guess that for the greater majority it was to improve their chances of finding work, or to find better work opportunities abroad.  An Irish passport gives its holder quite a lot of status and even power.  It allows a person to choose to travel abroad, not only in Europe, but further afield, as visas are rarely refused to an Irish passport holder. And even if they are refused, their holders can always come home, or wait until a Government minister pleads for special allowances for Irish emigrants.  This is surely the big contradiction.  We expect our Government ministers to plead for our family members when they overstay their visas in the US especially, but protest strongly when we see young men or women from non EU countries arriving here.

Many Irish are still unaware of the reasons why people come seeking asylum.  Some of that is undoubtedly wilful ignorance, but sometimes it is genuine.  However to really understand the situation of an asylum seeker, one needs to make an effort to “walk in the other person’s shoes”. Seeking asylum is not an easy option. The system of Direct Provision has been described as psychologically and emotionally damaging to people. Imagine yourself housed in one of these  “direct provision centres”, often for years, without knowing the outcome of your application! And in a strange country! Many live in fear of a “knock on the door” in the middle of the night and being driven off by the Gardai to prison to await deportation and possible death back in their home country.

 Some of us ask: “Why do it?”  “Why risk so much?”  But we all value our lives, and take a lot of care to protect ourselves and our loved ones. It’s instinctive.  And if this means having to abandon everything and run, with little time to gather a few precious things together, then so be it. Maybe you’ll have managed to snatch your identity papers, maybe not. Maybe you’ll have a little money on you, maybe not.  Maybe someone will be helping you, maybe not. And you probably won’t be able to tell your loved ones where you have gone or even why. You may survive the journey, or again, maybe not, if you are entrusting yourself to a leaky boat or strangers.  So, why do it?

Some will say: “these people are making up their stories, it can’t be as bad as that; this is the twenty-first century”. In fact you may have visited that country, or know someone who has. Yes, you may even have been on holiday there, but you can be sure you won’t have seen the “underside”.  When tourists come to Ireland they go to the places that have been advertised on glossy travel brochures. You will find them in city centre restaurants, or golfing in the West of Ireland, or shopping in the smart shops. They don’t stay in privately owned Rent Assistance accommodation, nor in inner city “flats”, even if many of these schemes have been re-located to suburban areas. They don’t know how “the other half” lives, nor do they, for the most part, care. And Ireland is a democracy, people are free to associate and to demonstrate. Not so in many other countries. Journalists can be imprisoned or worse for trying to publish the truth, lawyers, for defending the rights of the opposition, and so on.

The Church in Ireland today (and Irish society in general) can hugely benefit from the energy, living faith and contribution of migrants. Through their participation and living witness of the joy of the gospel they positively contribute to the life of the Church (and of our country). The wonderful gift of migration is that we wake up to find we have new neighbours, working in the same shops, singing the same songs, having the same hopes. Migration heightens fraternity among humans. Thank God for people on the move among us.Sr Julie Doran OLA in Migrant Resource Pack for Parishes in preparation for Christmas 2014 and 101st World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Sunday, January 18, 2015.

“We are invited to contribute to overcoming frontiers and encouraging the ‘moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalisation … towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world’ “ Pope Francis  Church Without Frontiers, Mother to All. Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Sunday, January 18, 2015.

Carol Dorgan  January 28 2015