Graham Clifford: Getting the message across to all in our society

Graham Clifford: Getting the message across to all in our society
Residents at the Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry. Picture: Alan Landers

Misconceptions about Covid-19 are rife amongst migrants but a new video service will provide clear and accurate information, writes Graham Clifford.

“But I heard you could catch the virus by just taking the test,” said my Nigerian friend – a competent, clever, and measured woman.

She’d heard the revelation from someone else living in Direct Provision who’d watched something on YouTube which made the claim. She doubted its veracity but still I could tell she thought there could be a grain of truth in it.

I know of young Brazilian men who have heard from home that the whole Covid-19 thing might be a bit of a hoax. One’s mother, a supporter of President Balsonaro told her son there was nothing to worry about in the meat factory where he works. He’s since tested positive for the virus.

The reality is that when it comes to getting public health messaging across to migrants, especially those who speak little, or no, English or who work in relatively low-paid jobs such as in meat factories, we’ve dropped the ball in a big way.

While we’ve used every means possible to keep the English (and Irish) speaking populations informed, we’ve done so little for those who speak other languages.

That’s why today through my work with Together Ireland, and in partnership with Nasc Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, I’m launching the Covid-19 World Service.

With the kind help of over 20 doctors, and other healthcare professionals, video messages in over 30 languages have been recorded to be sent to migrants here via WhatsApp and social media.

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They will explain what the virus is, how to prevent contracting Covid-19, how to stop it spreading and what to do if you get the virus or are a contact of someone who has tested positive.

We are sharing these videos because so many migrants do not have the accurate information.

So many don’t watch Irish tv, listen to Irish radio or read Irish newspapers. They don’t hang of Tony Holohan’s every word. Meat factory workers, in particular, are often young and here only to work and send money back home.

Just like so, so many young Irish people over the years they travel abroad to work and only consume home-based media. While not working they may drink their beers, speak with loved ones at home on their iPhone but Claire Byrne Live is not for them.

Yes, they could do more to find out what’s going on here during a pandemic, why others have stopped working, and why so many of their workmates are falling ill.

But they work in industries which demand their labour. No work, no pay. And after all isn’t this virus only something which effects older people?

The misconceptions about Covid-19 are frightening amongst some migrants and little has been done to put that right.

It is hard to find a solution to a problem you barely know exists.

Across Direct Provision centres and in meat factories, there have been scrambling of public health teams trying to close the barn door after it had already blown off its hinges.

Picture: Alan Landers
Picture: Alan Landers

Almost surprised that these situations had developed in the first place. Weren’t the printed flyers and hand sanitiser supposed to prevent this from happening?

For months, groups like the Sanctuary Runners, which I founded, have been calling for people to be moved out of Direct Provision centres during the crisis as clearly social distancing was an impossibility - but instead, we saw asylum seekers moved from four locations in Dublin to a hotel in Caherciveen, Co Kerry.

And inevitably an outbreak occurred. The mind boggles. Everything about that particular saga has been outrageous.

And it feels, throughout it all, that the voice of migrants has been heard, but never listened to.

Ireland is in desperate need of a Migrant Integration Strategy that enables communities to come closer together in an organic and beneficial way for all. A strategy which makes everyone living in a community feel part of that community and act accordingly.

Without it our societies will disintegrate. Opponents of migration will make hay and we risk ambling blindingly into a mire where many start to point fingers at ‘the other’.

And all the time the strategy remains the same.

It’s good that documents are translated into other languages and that there’s a big hoo-ha over the odd Africa Day, but these do not constitute a Migration Integration plan.

If they did, and if it were effective and functioning, we wouldn’t have such a high number of migrants in meat factories and direct provision centres infected today.

To protect yourself you need to protect others – but how can you protect someone else if you don’t understand what you need to protect them from.

We need to reach out and get to know the neighbour from elsewhere, we need to ask why so many low-paid workers are shipped in to work in meat factories, we need to check if they are okay.

We need to ask how we can tolerate a system which stockpiles asylum seekers. Why many Direct Provision centres, including those in plain sight in cities like Cork, Galway, and Limerick, are allowed to house so many men in cramped conditions?

Why has it taken a pandemic for this situation to become clearer?

Now we need to open our eyes.

This crisis has shown we’ve been ambling along – blinkered. If we’re not careful, we’ll really hurt ourselves and everyone will suffer no matter the colour of their skin or first language they speak.

If we motor along, head down, we’ll continue to build an Ireland where so many are confined to the shadows. 

We can do so much better – but we need a plan, we need a strategy and we need to listen to people who’ve moved here from elsewhere. Because this is their home too.

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