Doing integration the right way benefits everyone 

Doing integration the right way benefits everyone 

Lye Ogunsanya, a Nigerian former direct provision centre dweller and now CEO of Dídean which has developed a model of supported housing for asylum seekers. Picture: Moya Nolan

You don't expect migrants who have lived in the much-maligned direct provision system to want to give something back to Irish society but for Lye Ogunsanya opportunities came his way. 

The 38-year-old father-of-two is the chief executive of Dídean — the Irish word for 'shelter' — which was established in 2019 to provide a community-based social care alternative for people who require housing support.

Dídean, set up by Edward Dunne, a health and social care entrepreneur and philanthropist, has designed a service that he believes will contribute to providing an alternative to direct provision in an ethical manner. 

Dunne founded Nua Healthcare in 2004 which is now the largest private residential care provider in Ireland. He departed Nua last year to focus on Dídean. 

The organisation has a new housing development in County Laois that is "ready to go", as Ogunsanya says. 

The Government's White Paper on ending direct provision says that by 2024, a new not-for-profit model to replace direct provision will be in place. 

From Lagos to Dublin

Ogunsanya came from Lagos in Nigeria to Dublin in 2000 with his mother and sister, leaving behind his father, his older sister and a brother. 

While the family never wished to emigrate, Ogunsanya's younger sister's "severe autism" was the reason for the move. 

She would have had a poor quality of life in Nigeria where there have been cases of people with autism being physically attacked, according to Ogunsanya.

Placed in the Old School House in Dun Laoghaire, Ogunsanya says: "I wouldn't complain about my experience in direct provision because with my sister being severely autistic, we were moved into own-door accommodation in Dundalk, with three bedrooms within a year or so. 

"It didn't happen as fast as it should have but it happened quickly compared to people who were in the direct provision environment for years."

Ogunsanya says that hotels, "with no real places for kids and mothers to hang out in are not pleasant environments".

You can't live independently and bring your friends back.

When Ogunsanya arrived in Ireland, he was aged seventeen and had the expectation of going to university. But third level access was not open to him while his asylum application was being processed.

"I had to get on with life and try to find ways to volunteer and keep my brain ticking. Then, when I could work, I was lucky enough to get a job in a mobile phone company. That's how my career in communication, technology and marketing began."

Eventually, Ogunsanya's asylum application was granted in 2011 and in 2013, he went to Dublin City University where he studied for his BA degree. He won the ENACTUS award while an undergraduate. 

It engages the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders to use innovation and business principles to improve the world.

Ogunsanya's enterprise involved making bow ties and pocket squares using fabric with African patterns. 

The profits were used for therapeutic workshops for women in direct provision. 

It was a cool funky way for students and the general public to talk about the whole story of migration and direct provision and empowerment.

One of Ogunsanya's lecturers introduced him to Declan Ryan, former CEO of Ryanair and founder of the philanthropic organisation, The One Foundation. 

Ryan gave Ogunsanya's the job of managing the philanthropic portfolio in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.

"It was a fantastic opportunity. Part of my work with Declan was how to solve the problem of direct provision and to look at countries that were doing it well. 

"We met with the Hamburg state department. Germany took in over one million refugees and integrated them. 

"I learned that in Hamburg, migrants are not left in limbo. There is integration from day one. That's what Roderic O'Gorman (minister for integration) is promising in his White Paper."

 Lye Ogunsanya: I learned that in Hamburg, migrants are not left in limbo. There is integration from day one. 
Lye Ogunsanya: I learned that in Hamburg, migrants are not left in limbo. There is integration from day one. 

Ogunsanya says people want "real progress". 

"Direct provision has gone on for too long. Instead of saying 'let's end direct provision,' why don't we say 'this is what direct provision should look like.'"

The Dídean development in Portlaoise comprises fifteen properties that are spread out and have own door access and accommodation. 

There is a drop-in centre on the main street, allowing the residents of the development to meet with their lawyers as well as linking up with local people. 

"It's about that whole feeling of integration and local services. We're waiting for the department of justice and the department of children to issue a tender based on the White Paper. We're hoping that will happen before winter. 

"For God's sake, I went through last year having the Dídean development ready and knowing that there are vulnerable women and children living in direct provision who could have been (given own door accommodation). 

"It will be heartbreaking if this tender is not issued before winter."

Integration issues

There are issues regarding integration that need to be addressed. 

Ogunsanya says that "below the radar, what I'm hearing is that there could be a clash between citizens and migrants. At the end of the day, councils have problems already fulfilling the HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) scheme."

He added: "They fear a backlash from local citizens. That could happen. It's all about bringing the community along. It has to be done properly. 

"There have to be proper consultations with communities. Our model would help the Government to do this."

Life has improved for the Ogunsanyas since they arrived in Ireland over 20 years ago. 

"My mum started studying. She now works as a nurse in an old people's home. She studied for my sister's sake as well so things are okay. 

"The moral of the story is doing integration the right way. My mother did it by volunteering. She got herself integrated into the community very well. 

"If it's done right, things can be really good in terms of return on investment from the State in people. Integration is important because we don't want to create ghettos."

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