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Time to close the Direct Provision system

To be published in Metro Eireann

arn-stop-dpOn Saturday 18 November a rally organised by United against Racism heard moving speeches by several asylum seekers living the Direct Provision for-profit incarceration system where men, women and children are held often for up to ten years. The Irish Times reported Mavis who has lived in Direct Provision with her three children for fifteen months, as saying: “For me every day is a struggle, to watch my children suffering and getting sick. I wish one day somebody, an Irish citizen would go into my life for one week and they would know what a hell it is. I don’t even have words. Waiting and waiting for a decision is one of the hardest things a mother can do. What can we do? We have to pray and hope.”

The rally was part of the campaign to close the Direct Provision system, end deportations and grant asylum seekers the right to work, as per the Supreme Court recent ruling. According to Lucky Khambule of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), the restrictions imposed by the government on asylum seekers’ right to work, including not working while appealing their applications for refugee status, amount to a total denial of asylum seekers’ right to work.

Beside bed and board – including inappropriate, out of date and insufficient food – asylum seekers are forced to exist on a weekly “comfort allowance” of €21.60, and their lives are decided by for-profit managements that dictate who shares their rooms, what and when they eat, who can visit them, when they can do their washing and what facilities their children enjoy.

As I have written many times before, Ireland must close the Direct Provision system that racializes, dehumanizes and segregates asylum seekers, whose plight Irish society “manages not to know.” This continues decades of disavowal, as Una Mullally has recently written in The Irish Times, “The Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries were hiding in plain sight for years. We knew they existed, we knew - in broad brushstrokes - what went on there. Direct Provision centres hide more successfully in our communities, towns and cities. Many of us are not aware of their locations. That makes their presence even more insidious. But we know that they’re there. We know this system exists. We can’t keep repeating the process of unjustly hiding people away. They are not less than. They are people just like us, with families and aspirations.”

Together with the current rise of racism and Islamophobia, asylum seekers are being targeted by many racial states. In Australia’s inhuman off shore concentration camps asylum seekers are deprived of water and food and are beginning to be infected by cholera, as the camps are being closed. Israel too is beginning to close its concentration camps in the south of the country, forcing asylum seekers to either be willingly deported to Rwanda (which is being paid $5,000 dollars for each person it admits) or face indefinite jail. Ireland’s Direct Provision system, while not quite so deadly, condemns asylum seekers to a frozen existence in DP centres where private for-profit operators such as the international catering company Aramark are paid millions of euro to maintain Ireland’s version of what the African American activist Angela Davis terms ‘the prison industrial complex.’

Besides the obvious benefits to the Irish economy of allowing asylum seekers to work, pay taxes and spend money, and beside the obvious human benefits to Irish society of their talents and enterprise, there is also the moral imperative of Ireland’s choice to close the dehumanizing Direct Provision system, end all deportations, and use Ireland’s new wealth to include asylum seekers in solving our appalling housing crisis. The time to act is now.

Race counting and the Irish census

census-raceThe Irish census of population is upon us again, asking us to divulge information about home ownership,  room numbers, employment, transport to work,  age, birth place, gender, children,  and so on.

But what are census statistics about? According to the French theorist Michel Foucault, the collection and analysis of statistics, also known as ‘science of state’ and ‘political arithmetics’, reflect a growing governmental interest in the population, its health and illness, life and death, poverty and wealth. Statistics grant state knowledge about the population, and far from enabling the state to improve its services, statistical knowledge allows the state to differentiate between various population types – men and women, young and old, healthy and ill, rich and poor, native and immigrant, settled and Traveller, and thus exercise greater control depending on which type of population you belong to.

Perhaps the most contentious census questions is the ‘ethnic question’, the impetus for which came from Traveller organisations hopeful that enumerating Travellers and locating them in different regions would improve their access to accommodation, health, education and other services. However, in asking us to identify our ‘ethnic or cultural background’, the so-called ‘ethnic question’ is actually a race question. Read the rest of this entry »

Irish artists commemorate the destruction of Gaza

mads-gilbertThe two-hour lecture by the Norwegian emergency doctor Mads Gilbert about Israel’s 2014 air, ground and sea assault of the besieged Gaza enclave, was for me the highlight of Palfest, a four-day artistic commemoration of the destruction of Gaza in July 2014. Dr Gilbert, who engages in the political act of solidarity medicine, mesmerised a capacity audience at the O’Reilly Theatre on July 11, emphasising the impunity with which Israel continues to occupy, blockade, attack and kill the people of Palestine. He also highlighted the role of the real heroes – the medics and paramedics working in Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital, where he has served several terms as an accidents and emergency doctor, as well as the ordinary Gazans whose losses are unfathomable. He played the noise of the air bombardment, that together with his photographs of dead and wounded children, women and men brought the atrocities home to his audience. This made a Dublin-based Lebanese woman sitting next to me collapse in tears, remembering the 2006 Israeli attack on Beirut. And as she was sobbing I recalled a member of my Israeli family, a jet pilot who took an active part in the bombardment, and we hugged and cried together – victim and perpetrator united in opposing Israeli aggression.

palfest-326x235Palfest was an incredibly effective and well attended volunteer-run initiative by Irish artists – actors, musicians, visual artists, film makers, and poets - aiming to commemorate the anniversary of the Gaza assault, support Palestine and demonstrate the solidarity of the Irish arts community with the people of Palestine.

There were many highlights during Palfest’s action packed four days, including theatre productions, poetry readings, lectures and film screenings. The ‘Sumud / Steadfastedness’ photography exhibition brought together three photographic projects about Gaza. In ‘Gaza seen by its children’ Belgian photographer Asmaa Seba showed the result of working with six children who witnessed the massacre during Israel’s previous bombardment in 2008. Anne Paq’s photographs showed the consequences for Gaza’s ‘obliterated families’, and Dublin-based Fatin Al Tamimi exhibited photos of acts of solidarity with Palestine in Ireland.

beach-palfestAnother incredibly moving event was the ‘No more: Dublin remembers the children of Gaza’ installation on Sandymount strand, where 551 children’s vests represented the 551 children murdered by Israel during the 2014 massacre.

It is hard to be optimistic about the possibility of Gaza recovering from Israel’s most recent 51-day attack, leaving 2,251 Palestinians dead, the majority (1,462) civilians, and thousands injured, many of whom will remain disabled for life. The destruction of the tiny enclave, one of the most densely populated areas in the world with the highest (43%) unemployment rate, has been unprecedented. With Israel blocking the importation of building materials, some 100,000 Gazans remain homeless and many have been living in the ruins of their homes through the harsh winter and the current relentless heat. Despite UN reports and civil society pressure, Israel seems determined to continue the siege.

Even though optimism seems remote, Palfest’s commitment to freedom and justice for Gaza and Palestine reminded us that pessimism is a luxury none of us can afford. Many of us shed tears and felt the pain, but it was the determination of Ireland’s amazing artists, culminating on the final night in an energising concert at Liberty Hall, that strengthened our resolve to continue to struggle for an end to the Israeli occupation and siege, and for freedom and justice for all Palestinians, those in 1948 Palestine (the state of Israel), those occupied in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, those under siege in Gaza and those in the diaspora, waiting to return.

Frightened, they silenced

gaza-flower-2Frightened, they silenced

moving

the amorphous us

to swift fury.

Meanwhile in the land

– with people –

the death factory

conveyors roll

manufacturing rubble of solar

rectangles

dust of toxic cement.

Their silencing

the loud twilight song of

crumbling empires

won’t stop the amorphous

as anarchic flowers

peep through the

looming cracks of

summer.

Who said ‘we’ are not racist?

racism-2When I started teaching race and racism about twenty years ago, students’ response was brutal: ‘how can you, a foreigner, say that Ireland is racist? We are a friendly, welcoming people. And anyway, Irish people were victimised by the British – how can they possibly be racist?’ And my favourite: ‘There was no racism in Ireland until “these people” came’ – as if immigrants carry racism powder in their luggage.
It was the ‘as a foreigner’ bit that puzzled me. I was teaching a course that my colleague and co-author Robbie McVeigh had taught before me but there was no objection to him – a Northern Protestant – as there was to me, despite my personal experiences of antisemitism in ‘friendly’ Ireland. Perhaps I was telling it too bluntly. My first students in Trinity were teachers – I shudder to remember how opposed they were to accepting that Ireland is racist, wondering how they were going to deal with black Irish, Traveller, ‘foreign’ children? I do hope this has changed since.

And the denial continues. The ‘I am not a racist but…’ brigade keeps claiming that ‘it is not really’ racism; that it’s ignorance, personal prejudice, ‘bad apples’; that Irish immigration, asylum, direct provision and deportation policies are not ‘really’ racist’ – after all, don’t ‘we’ have the right to determine how many immigrants we let in?

But then in November 2013 you read about the treatment of members of ‘Call to Action Mixed Race Irish’ in state care in the 1950s and 1960s. As Evo Brennan says: ‘you weren’t held because of your colour. When you are held the carers wear gloves because you are contamination. You are the colour of excrement…’ She was told ‘your mother is a whore, your father’s a savage, you’re treated as a robot, as an object, as a monkey.’ Many of these mixed race people had fled to England where they could get lost in the crowd, yet they were and still are part of Ireland’s history, long before ‘these people came’. Read the rest of this entry »

05/24/2018 Migrant Activism and Integration from Below in Ireland

Edited by Ronit Lentin and Elena Moreo Palgrave MacMillan, 2012...read more
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