Archive for the ‘asylum’ Category
Louis Lentin’s documentary ‘No More Blooms’ was broadcast on RTE on International Human Rights Day, 10 December 1997. Based on scrupulous archival research, the film documented Ireland’s consistent refusal to give refuge to more than 60 Jewish people fleeing Nazism between 1933 and 1946. Prior to the screening, Lentin told The Irish Times, ‘If you had been told in 1939 that when the war started, the policy of genocide would be implemented, would you have believed it?’ However, and although neutral Ireland was not unique in closing its borders, as the war progressed, and despite the Irish population being shielded by strict state censorship from knowledge about the excesses of the Nazi extermination programme, it became apparent that Jewish (and Roma) people were being systematically annihilated. Yet, even after the war, when the Irish Jewish community applied to allow 100 Jewish orphans into Ireland, permission was given only providing the Jewish community look after the children, and providing they left the country after one year stay in Clonyn Castle in County Westmeath.
‘No More Blooms’ and the history of Ireland’s miserable treatment of refugees since World War II (‘Europe’s darkest hour’) is hugely pertinent today as we watch the march of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and elsewhere in the Global South towards the southern and eastern edges of Fortress Europe. The tide, it seems, cannot be stemmed, as resilient and strong willed refugees crawl under barbed wire fences, and wash off onto the southern shores of the Mediterranean having taken rickety boats to freedom.
For the time being the refugees’ march to freedom is big news. The European media and social media are full of the viral photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned three year old Kurdish toddler lying face down on the shores of Turkey, and of endless YouTube videos of refugees arriving on makeshift boats in Italy and Greece, and breaking through makeshift fences along the Hungarian and Bulgarian borders. News stories tell of heart felt responses by Europeans demonstrating and collecting goods for refugees trapped in Calais. Others report on some European leaders calling on EU states to share the burden and on Europe’s southern citizens giving assistance, and even homes to the refugees. However, the key motif is ‘Europe’s refugee crisis’ and the key discussion point is whether the fortress can cope with what is seen as the onslaught. Solutions such as the mayor of Barcelona calling to establish ‘refuge cities’ or the provision of accommodation places for fleeing refugees, while welcome, are all inadequate partial responses that does not recognise that the days of Fortress Europe are numbered.
Like during the Nazi era, when Germans and other Europeans chose not to know about the Nazi extermination plans, today most Europeans prefer to defend Europe’s white, Christian identity and keep the fortress intact. Responses range from asking Israel about the high-technology anti-refugee fence on its border with Egypt, to talking about quotas, as Europe is intent on maintaining its white supremacy illusion and speaking about ‘these people’ as a problem to be solved at best, and as a threat at worst. In view of Ireland’s laughable offer to admit 600 Syrians, RTE should re-broadcast ‘No More Blooms’ as a reminder of our moral responsibility to the millions fleeing refugees. It would remind the Irish and their government of the futility of pretending that Fortress Europe can remain intact.
Last week we have again helplessly watched people drowning in the Mediterranean as they attempt to cross the sea to the safety of Europe. Migration NGOs say that more than 2,000 migrants and refugees have died in 2015 so far. However, the very use of the term ‘migrants’ by European governments and NGOs dehumanises their tragedy, occluding the fact that what the Italian-Jewish writer Primo Levi, speaking of Holocaust victims and survivors, called ‘the drowned and the saved’, are human beings, just like us. In 1972, during the migration of ‘guest workers’ to western Europe, the Swiss writer Max Frisch, whose work focused on issues of responsibility, morality, and political commitment, unforgettably wrote in response to the ‘guest workers’ controversy: ‘we asked for workers and human beings came’. Migrant workers, Frisch insisted, have lives, families, hopes and dreams, just like the citizens of the states they come to live in – an insight too easily lost in the current debates on migrants and refugees.
The people desperately trying to gain entry to Western Europe, be it through the fenced border between Hungary and Serbia, the Channel tunnel between France and Britain, or on rickety boats crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to southern Europe, are fleeing disasters – such as the catastrophic wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan, or the dire poverty of African countries - all created or supported by the west. Lest we forget, these humans are fleeing because they want to feel safe and give their children a future, yet, although seeking asylum is totally legal, they are often criminalised by the European migration regime. Read the rest of this entry »
The Immigrant Council of Ireland, a supposedly ‘migrant-support’ NGO, has just announced a new initiative to combat ‘human trafficking’ and ‘sham marriages’. Together with the Department of Justice’s Anti-Trafficking Unit, the ICI joins poorer EU states Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia in an EU funded research on ‘the issue of human trafficking for the purpose of sham marriage’.
NGOs such as the ICI have been problematic for a long time now. Purporting to support migrants, it has no problem in joining forces with the government in researching, publishing reports and initiating policies the aim of which is ultimately (in the ICI’s own words) to ‘regulate’, ‘mainstream’ and ‘control’ migration into Ireland, and to ‘integrate’ those migrants permitted to remain.
A ‘sham’ or ‘fake’ marriage is defined as a ‘marriage of convenience’ entered into for the purpose of gaining a benefit, in this case leave to remain for a non EU national in an EU state. In many cases it’s the only way for an asylum seeker or migrant, otherwise deemed ‘illegal’, to enter and remain in a western state. I remember finding photographs in my father’s collection of a woman we didn’t know, only to discover that while studying in a Prague university, he married a local Jewish woman so as to save her from remaining in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia as it was then called. Upon arrival in Palestine a quick divorce was arranged, but father kept the woman’s photograph, knowing that had he not married her – in a ‘sham marriage’ as it would now be called – she would have been sent to the Nazi camps.
I do admit that there are many ruthless gangs of traffickers who force women and children into sex slavery (in India, for example, 60,000 children are abducted each year for sex slavery), but this is a completely different issue. My unstinted support for the ICI’s Stop the Red Light campaign against the exploitation of women and children in Ireland’s sex industry has changed somewhat recently. While I definitely do not support men’s god given right to have sex whenever and however they please, or criminal gangs making billions from trafficking children and women for sex purposes, we need to differentiate between this and the erroneous assumption that all women brought to Ireland by so called ‘traffickers’ are victims, as claimed by EUROPOL, the Department of Justice, and by NGOs such as the ICI. Most asylum seekers need smugglers to get them to safety, and using smugglers is often the only way these women migrants – as free and active agents – can find their way out of oppression and misery.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland is funded by the EU to join forces with the Irish government that still incarcerates thousands of asylum seekers in direct provision and stops many others from presenting their asylum applications. This shameless collaboration will result in further controlling Fortress Europe’s policed borders, the consequences of which we have all witnessed recently in the drowning of hundreds of migrants escaping the horrors of Syria, Afghanistan and Africa in the Mediterranean.
On May 18 the Maynooth University Department of Applied Social Studies is hosting a conference celebrating 50 years to the adoption of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Despite the initial good intentions, CERD has brought about no reduction in racism and racial discrimination. With the global north continuing to wage wars against the global south, whole societies, from Somalia to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Sudan, from Syria to Ukraine, from Palestine to Congo, have been destroyed, producing millions of refugees. Meanwhile, in the global north CERD has done nothing to stop lethal police brutality against black and minority populations, the detention of asylum seekers and the ongoing discrimination against indigenous people.
And what about Ireland? Already in 2004, in response to criticism by CERD regarding its treatment of Travellers and asylum seekers, the Irish government insisted it had no intention of discontinuing its system of dispersal and direct provision which, it said, ‘forms a key part of government policy in relation to the asylum process’. Direct Provision, run by for-profit private companies, incarcerates asylum seekers, many living with hanging deportation orders, not allowed to work, access third level education, or cook their own food, living in limbo, hidden from public view. Despite the obvious infringements of the rights and the everyday racism experiences of asylum seekers’, Travellers’ and other racialised people, the then Justice Minister Michael McDowell responded to CERD by claiming that Ireland ‘has no serious racism problem’ and that it was ‘leading the antiracism struggle in Europe’. Read the rest of this entry »
Launch of UNHCR report ‘Towards a new beginning: Refugee Integration in Ireland’ 3 March 2015, Mansion House, Dublin
Speakers at the launch were UNHCR Ireland director Sophie Magennis, Minister of State at the Dept of Justice Aoghán Ó Riordáin, report author Diana Gouveia, and two refugees, Mustafa Shirzi (Afghanistan) and Nadia Said (Somalia), the latter two expressing gratitude to Ireland for their successful integration. In the audience were mostly refugees (several Syrians commended for ‘creating a vibrant community’…), NGO interns, doctoral students, but very few activists.
The report (Towards a New Beginning: Refugee Integration in Ireland), based on interviews with 71 refugees, recommends ‘best practices’ in the areas of active citizenship, employment, housing, media participation, English language ‘training’, access to information. It recommends shorter stay in the direct provision system, but not its abolition or ending deportations.
The Minister said ‘no asylum seeker wants to be in the DP system’, stressing that the Working group aims to improve the system and that integration is ‘a complex process which requires time’. His general tone was congratulatory, particularly in his boast that Ireland does not have far right parties (it doesn’t need them, it has a government, says I), and his delight in the multiculturality of Ireland which was ‘so boring and monocultural’ during his youth. He highlighted the role of sport in promoting integration but said that integration is ‘about much more than antiracism’… Read the rest of this entry »