A light of hope for our walled-in people

He walks the streets of the city with his friends. Down Shop Street. Having the laugh. The fun. And he feels part of it all. And they talk about music and Messi. And for a short while every school day he feels part of this city, a cast member in the show that is Galway. And they listen to buskers. And haul their schoolbags on their backs. And tease each other. But when he gets to the part where he has to go in a different direction, there is a kind of awkwardness that eschews words. They know where he's going back to and he knows where they are headed. He knows because he has seen their homes, he has gone to their streets and been at their houses. Proper homes with doors and rooms. He wishes he could bring them back to where he lives. He wishes that he could be proud of where he lives, but there is nothing to be proud of. His family don't own it, nor did they pick it themselves. And then Mother and Father are always around. But not because they want to be.

So he goes to the one room which is his bedroom, kitchen, sitting room, playground. A place where he shares his space. The scarce space he needs as a child. Space to think. Space to play. And to read books and to learn and to hide for a while when it all gets too much.

Mother and Father tell him about education. How he has to have it. How he has to work hard at it. Harder than the other boys, because… Their voices trail off. They never say why. But he knows that he has to work harder because he has to escape these walls. The walls that hold them all together. The walls that form the legal basis of their sort of psychological confinement.

They tell him about their education. How Father was an engineer and how Mother worked in a lab. With a white coat. And instruments. And sometimes when they tell him this, he wonders if it was true. If it is not just another of those stories that parents tell children to ease their fears to coax them to sleep, to encourage them to do good things. Because here he has never seen them work. They say they are not allowed to, but he wonders if that is true, ‘cos it doesn't make sense. People need to be able to work. But it must be, because his parents are good people and they don't like hanging around all day, all week, waiting for something to happen, waiting for everything to happen.

And there is a sadness about them that has been absorbed into their gait. They seem to be losing a fraction of their soul every €19.10 week they are here.

He wishes he could have nice things. Not ridiculous things, but just nice things. To make them smile again. When he grows up he wants a place that has loads of rooms, where he and his sisters can play. He wants a life that will see them able to buy medicine when they get sick; he wants a room where he can read his books without any interruption, where he can learn the things that will become the keys to the exit gate from all of this.

This week there is a jauntiness in their step. The family in the next room have told them that a lot may be about to change soon. That soon Ireland may let them work, may allow him to go on to university. And so this week there is hope. And where there is hope, there is a smile.

And now, he feels just a little bit more like everyone else.

This country should have learned from the way we treated the vulnerable over the last century that the way we treat those in Direct Provision is just not right. Change is welcome.


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