Don’t go back to work, and above all, don’t go home!

Reflection for July 2013

 Imagine waking up one morning, doing the usual routine, breakfast, helping to get the children out to school and setting off for work.  At your lunch break a friend warns you:  “Don’t go back to work, and above all, don’t go home. The military are looking for you”.  Another friend, vocally critical of the regime disappeared two days ago and now you are under suspicion and could also disappear.  You have to flee, but you can’t tell your family at home.  You have nothing, just the clothes on your back, a small amount of money and a mobile phone  – no papers, no proper identification.  You have to get out you must run. 

You hide until darkness comes and then begin walking along a narrow road, across fields, scrub land.  A lorry driver, travelling with goods to the neighbouring country picks you up and agrees to bring you along, and in return you promise him the money you have.  Several hours later you are across the border, but you have to get further away.  Eventually you manage find some help and are put on a flight, with a false passport to Europe. Here you claim asylum. You know no one. You can’t understand the language. You have no money. And you are now very hungry.  After a long wait of some hours someone is found to speak to you. Finally you are brought to a building where there are others from your continent, and even from your country, and eventually you can phone home, explain what happened, and that you are safe – for now.

As the days go on and nothing happens you get anxious.  You aren’t allowed to work. You have to stay in this place, eat the food that is cooked. You keep your small weekly allowance for phone credit.  You can’t have a night out go to a film or theatre. You aren’t sleeping, since you share a room with two others and one of them is noisy. You have frequent nightmares.  A year goes by…two years….five years…You have lost your self-confidence, your work skills. You are dependent on this system for all personal needs like clothes, food and medical care. Not knowing how long you will be like this is the worst.

Some asylum seekers move through the system quickly, they are the lucky ones. But some wait for years.  Some develop severe depression or other mental health problems due to enforced  institutional idleness. Several newspapers have recently highlighted this as a scandal for the state in years to come. It will replace the horrifying stories of child abuse.

 We know the facts; we know the reasons why people come. We know that some asylum seekers are sent back; we know that some come here for economic reasons, while we forget that currently many Irish people are leaving Ireland for the same economic reasons and expect to be welcomed abroad. It is never easy to leave one’s country, to say goodbye to family, friends, work, all that is familiar.  Not all leave for dramatic or urgent reasons, as in the case outlined above, but why would someone risk leaving all if there was not a very serious reason, even a life-threatening reason?

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand.

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