'Don't deny us hope of a better tomorrow ... it is all we have left': Asylum seeker on the right to work

Giving asylum seekers the right to work is not just about money, it’s also about the restoration of human dignity, writes this anonymous author who lives in direct provision.

NELSON Mandela once said: “When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.”

This sentiment resonates greatly as I look at the current debate on asylum seekers’ right to work in Ireland.

For some people, this may seem like a relatively new issue, but the truth is, in some circles, this issue has been a topic of conversation from as far back as 2006.

TDs Richard Boyd Barrett and Joan Collins and supporters of United Against Racism at the gates of Leinster House earlier this year to back a Dáil motion to end the direct provision system. The motion called for asylum seekers to be given the right to work, the right to education, and the right to benefits on the same basis as other Irish citizens. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

Yet more than 10 years later, the State wants more time to decide, because they want to avoid unnecessary administrative work due to a flood of work permit applications.

But, how much time is needed for the State to act humanely and not waste taxpayer’s money through unnecessary court appeals? Because this water has been boiling long enough.

The right to work is not just a question of money, it is enterprise, it is the restoration of human dignity, and the ability to provide for oneself and one’s family. It cannot be bought or overlooked.

So, as I seek thoughts to convey my plea for the right to work, all I ask for is a moment of consideration. It is rare for science and religion to find common ground, but both affirm the immense benefits of working. Working means growth, independence and the ability to walk with pride.

Recently, a man told me I was living for free in Ireland and I should go back to where I am from. For a moment I was offended but I realised that minus the slur, he was telling the truth.

How much do people really know about the system we are forced to live under, where we are practically infantilised? I believe people often confuse the call for humane treatment and adequate living conditions with ingratitude.

The depth of gratitude every single person granted asylum in Ireland has is immeasurable, because it was either we fled or we died, maybe not from conflict, but because we had lost hope for positive change.

A person who loses hope eventually gives up the will to live and the only option left is to seek asylum and that bit of hope for the possibility of a better tomorrow.

Yet, do people know asylum seekers are qualified individuals who have been practically begging to be allowed to work, to contribute to society?

The absolute work ban and reluctance to reach a decision communicates that we are living for free and inadvertently allows others to toss insults. Though I can contribute, I am being denied that opportunity.

The direct provision system is worse than war-torn countries because it accepts people and gives us a glimpse of hope, but, once settled, you start hearing people’s stories.

How they have lived in the hostel for 10 years plus being denied the right to work and forced to survive on €21.60. Hope then becomes a curse as you wait for a reply that never seems to arrive.

In a conflict zone, you expect to lose autonomy, but when I arrived, all I had heard previously about Ireland championing human rights was challenged.

The State has devised a system that deliberately excludes people from the community by placing asylum seekers in isolated centres removed. Yet, we are asked how we have assimilated.

Are we a social ill to be hidden away and not talked about, are we not suitable to live among the community?

Criminals are the only other group isolated. Does our treatment place us in that category? If granted the right to work, we would hope to be judged on our capabilities and to challenge prevalent stereotypes. Our forced circumstances are a barrier to proving our worth and to people learning who we truly are.

Also, most children in the hostel are denied the chance to cultivate survival skills because the ability to learn responsibility, and manage time and money is learned from an early age.

When our children are denied the chance to further their education, they are practically trained to become dependent on social welfare. Moreover, the lack of space and privacy is often disheartening and dehumanising, particularly for families who are forced to live in one room.

Where is the dignity in a parent dressing or undressing in a bathroom or in front of their children? Where is the humanity in a child being forced to do their homework on a toilet seat because there is nowhere to do it on the single table servicing the whole family?

How do you restore the innocence of children who mistakenly see their parents having relations?

The right to work would mean autonomy; it would mean restoration of dignity and self-worth, it would mean us being able to afford rent in houses where our children have bedrooms. How are we expected to cope after we have left the hostel?

I have met some of the most compassionate people in Ireland, who have made a huge difference in my life by making me feel welcome. I only ask that more people offer unreserved welcome and challenge inaccurate preconceived notions regarding the assistance we receive.

Often, when we leave the hostel we become state burdens because we never got the chance to develop coping mechanisms, and are suffering from emotional and mental turmoil as a result of waiting for a decision on our status.

Truth is, we were taught to repay kindness and welcome with hard work, and all that we eat, not forgetting the roof over our heads, because we have worked for it; therefore, my final plea is, let us work and regain our sense of self-worth and self-respect.

Allow us to show our appreciation and regain our true selves that circumstance has almost extinguished. We are here and all we humbly ask for is that you give us a chance to live a fulfilled life.

As Confucius rightly said: “A wise man has dignity without pride, a fool has pride without dignity.”

We are laying our pride aside and asking you not to deny us the hope for a better tomorrow, because right now, hope is the only thing we have left.

The author currently lives in a direct provision centre. Her identity has been protected for fear this opinion article would affect her asylum application process.

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