By David Raleigh
When Donnah Vuma returns to her home in Direct Provision after a hard day’s study at the University of Limerick, she is not allowed to cook dinner for her children, aged 14, 10, and eight.
Vuma, her son, and two daughters have been living in a Direct Provision centre for the past four years as they await a decision their application for asylum.
Their life story is typical of the thousands who live in Ireland’s Direct Provision system.
“For someone like me, with a family, it is not an ideal situation. We are not allowed to cook and I don't have the right to work,” said Vuma, a 32-year old Zimbabwean native.
Being deprived of employment and the opportunity to provide for her children is a torture in itself, she said.
In Zimbabwe, Vuma worked as a sales and marketing manager, but, because of a corrupt political regime and tensions in her home country, she fled to Ireland.
“Simple things like not being able to cook for your family is very difficult for me; having to live on a routine where you know you have to do certain things at a certain time, and doing them the same way every single day, is really difficult.”
“It’s not the best situation or ideal way to raise a family.”
Vuma and each of her children are provided with a paltry €21.60 a week to live on. Previously, the State-provided increment was a mere €19.10 a week.
Vuma said she and her family have been left scarred by the Direct Provision experience.
“There are health effects, visible ones,” she said.
“My little boy doesn't eat the food that is provided, as it is either too spicy, or not to his liking; So, he doesn't eat most of the time, so that has negative health (impact) on him.”
“My daughter overeats, so obviously we know what the results are of overeating.”
Vuma also highlighted how “psychological effects are very evident”, too.
“She has bad days sometimes. She says to me ‘oh gosh, when are we going to get out of here’, so, it’s very difficult, in terms of them experiencing a normal childhood.”
The experience has also been hard on Vuma, who added: “It is difficult on me as well, as a parent, to know that I can’t provide fully for them, so that comes with its own challenges mentally.”
“It's quite difficult.”
Despite the family’s ordeal, Vuma has not given up they will one day be granted asylum in Ireland.
In her own right she has become a powerful voice for migrants seeking political support for an "end to Direct Provision".
Last Friday, standing beside President Michael D Higgins at the launch of a four-year plan for migrant integration in Limerick, Vuma highlighted “barriers” faced by asylum seekers and refugees trying to access education, housing, and employment.
Vuma was crowned 2017 Clare Woman of the Year by the Soroptimist International Ennis and District Club, and she is a member of the board of migrant rights organisation Doras Lumni.
She has been one of the lucky few to secure a path to higher education and is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of Limerick.
The course, offered under the University’s Sanctuary Scholarship programme, waives fees for participants.
Vuma said she believes while there is a long road to walk for migrants in Ireland things are “definitely improving”.
“The evidence of that is the fact there is recognition that there is a problem here, and (people asking) how can we fix it, and what is the way forward.”