Mosney was supposed to be a short-term solution. 18 years on, the campus houses over 600 people. Newcomers to Ireland who have already faced years of instability are forced to spend months, and often years, in direct provision centres such as Mosney.
In a recent piece, I argued that Ireland’s long history with emigration should make us more empathetic to today’s refugee crisis. This is not just a matter of how many refugees we accept; it is also about how we treat them once they arrive. Volunteers are always in demand, and Irish people possess the resources needed to help.
I spoke to Mosney residents Hassan and Zara about the isolating reality of direct provision and the changes they would like to see. Wanita, their friend and an Irish student, is a volunteer helping them in their struggle to be included in Irish communities.
Hassan starts off by telling me a little bit about why he left Syria. He explains that he was studying at university, but the government tried to conscript him into the army. He didn’t want to fight, so he left. “First we went to Lebanon by bus. Then from Lebanon to Turkey, by the sea. And then to Greece by boat.” It’s the same story for Zara, who isn’t very comfortable speaking English and lets Hassan translate for her.
“The most difficult thing here is that we are isolated, from the whole community, the Irish community. Everything is far away. We need integration, we need harmony,” he says.
Hassan and Zara are not refugees anymore. They have GNIB cards, and are allowed to work in Ireland. But Mosney is located forty kilometers from Dublin, which makes it impossible for them to find jobs. With a weekly allowance of €19.10, public transport is not an option. “Their whole week’s supply is gone on one return bus. They can’t find work because the bus ride would be too expensive,” explains Wanita.
“The most difficult thing here is that we are isolated, from the whole community, the Irish community. Everything is far away.”
Hassan is twenty-five and energetic. He is eager to work and carve out a new path for himself in Ireland. “We don’t want to be on social welfare. Everyone would like to work by themselves,” he says. Unfortunately, like other Mosney residents, he is hindered by obstacles such as language and distance from the city. While Hassan and Zara want to help themselves, these systemic barriers means there is ample need for Irish people to step up and lend a hand.
Wanita has been working with migrants since she was thirteen. She has worked on donation drives in Prague and at a refugee camp in Alexandria, and is now actively involved in volunteering at home. “As I got older I realised the horrific structural barriers in place for migrants, especially in the housing network, with regards to getting into the political sphere, in the jobs market.”
Wanita is also hyper-conscious of the isolation felt by migrants in direct provision. She believes that connecting newcomers with Irish people is critical. Hassan agrees that this would help curb the segregation felt by Mosney residents. “We’d like to communicate with people. We’d like to live in the Irish community,” he says.
“As I got older I realised the horrific structural barriers in place for migrants, especially in the housing network, with regards to getting into the political sphere, in the jobs market.”
Irish people are in a position to offer valuable supports to direct provision residents, such as transport and English conversation. Forming friendships with native Irish also benefits migrants when it comes to the application process. “Asylum seekers, not just programme refugees, everyone – is so keen to have Irish people over, because when they’re applying for asylum, it’s good for them to show that they have links to the Irish community,” says Wanita. “They’re always looking to get involved. I think the best thing that I did was I just went down myself.”
Wanita is proof that simple steps can be taken by the public to spark short and long-term change. Having noticed a shortfall of English teaching in Mosney, Wanita decided to set up and coordinate weekly classes. “There are [already] English classes, but not enough. For example, I’m advanced, but they teach basic so I don’t attend actually,” says Hassan.
Wanita’s is a personal initiative not led by any particular organisation. “You’re not allowed to get into Mosney if you’re in an organisation. They’d be extremely picky,” she says. Only individuals who know refugees personally are allowed access. Luckily, meeting residents isn’t always difficult; Hassan and Zara got to know Wanita simply through connecting on Facebook.
Wanita points out that language is far from the only hurdle facing Mosney residents. Lack of mental health services is a countrywide problem, but for those in direct provision, many of whom are war victims, it is particularly pressing. PTSD, anxiety, and insomnia are rampant in Mosney. With their meagre weekly allowance, there is no chance of residents accessing quality services. Wanita recalls sadly how one man asked her for sleeping pills, a plea to which she couldn’t accede. “They’re not allowed to access psychiatric care. That’s a really big problem. They need therapy.”
Childcare is yet another issue. “There is a childcare service but it’s really small and it’s booked up. I don’t think they take many children,” Wanita explains. The majority of people don’t have childcare, meaning parents are often forced to skip English classes.
“They’re not allowed to access psychiatric care. That’s a really big problem. They need therapy.”
Zara is a full-time parent to two young children. This leaves her with very little free time for improving her English and jobseeking. “She is busy all the time with the kids,” Hassan translates for her. Zara has to jump through hoops to attend even the simplest of social occasions. Speaking about a dinner she recently hosted, Wanita recalls: “We had to get a car seat, and find somebody who was comfortable bringing a six-month-old baby and a two-year-old. It was a long process. If there had been somebody who could have minded the children, for two hours even, things would be easier for them.”
As somebody who has worked with migrants for years, Wanita is no stranger to criticism. What does she say to people who insist on prioritising Irish people in need over refugees? “[Irish] homeless people and homeless children deserve housing for sure, but so does everybody.”
Wanita believes that people who argue for putting Irish people first are missing the point. “They’re focusing upon the symptom, instead of what has caused this problem in the first place – a government that has created no social housing in its whole term, and a host of other Draconian problems they’ve made.” She advocates for focusing on flawed government structures, rather than pitting Irish people and refugees against one another. “There’s no us and them. We’re all one. And we’re all human beings.”
“There’s no us and them. We’re all one. And we’re all human beings.”
How To Help
If more people had Wanita’s attitude, perhaps we would see faster change. How does she advise people to get involved? “I would say definitely contact Refugee and Migrant Solidarity Ireland, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, or Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland. The majority of people that we found to volunteer have just been people who have messaged the Facebook pages and said ‘I have time, I want to help, how can I do it?’”
Things have already moved slowly enough for Hassan, Zara, and the hundreds of other Mosney residents. “We lost six years in the war and we would like to start again. You know, do something, anything,” Hassan says. “It’s been six years. Six years, we lost from ourselves.”
“We lost six years in the war and we would like to start again. You know, do something, anything,”
As it stands, there are many Irish volunteers like Wanita out there doing great work. But there is so much more we, as Irish people, could do. Immigration is, after all, a two-way street. People leaving their home country is an inevitable part of life and always has been, as our own history so emphatically conveys. Whether newcomer or native, we are all responsible for helping to make the process as smooth as possible.