Allow asylum seekers the dignity of work

The most valuable possession any person has is his or her dignity.

If only this was recognised by everyone and every organisation, what a world we would live in. And yet we can all start in our own backyard.

For years now, the ruling that those who live in direct provision in this country were not allowed to work was a total affront to their dignity.

Not alone did it prevent them from benefiting from the learning experience of doing a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, it also robbed them of the right to become total role models for their children, who often through no fault of their own have ended up living on a pittance in accommodation that is also certainly ill-suited to the demands of modern family living.

Not being able to work means that asylum seekers, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, had to live on an allowance of €19.10 per week. Many of you who read this spend more on a few day’s coffees that that. A few pints, a few magazines, credit for your phone. That is the amount that we force these people to live on.

Not being allowed to work meant that if they had to go for an appointment, they had to show a note to the bus driver, in full view of the other passengers, their dignity being robbed even when they were out of their cramped accommodation.

In essence, we are forcing people to merely exist, to just eat and sleep and wake up and sleep and eat and so on.

Of course, those who propose that we should retain this ban, do so because they say they fear that allowing them to work makes the asylum process attractive. Believe me, there is nothing attractive about it

We speak of the injustice about the undocumented Irish and the cloud they all live under. But that is nothing compared to the limitations being placed on those in direct provision in this country.

I have no doubt in the world that two decades form now, an enquiry will be set up into the injustices and abuses and breaches of dignity that are currently being experienced by those who live in direct provision in Ireland. While we rightly look back with anger at Tuam and the Magdalene Laundries, perhaps right under our eyes every day, we are allowing people to be corraled and penalised for fleeing one life for a better life, exactly what this country was best known for in centuries past and present.

Imagine the life of a young child growing up in these conditions. Not having a place they can call home. Not having a place they can bring their friends. Being ashamed of parents or adults they have never seen working. Their role models denied the chance to work, to show what they can do, what they can learn to become better citizen of this new land they are experiencing.

Some of the brightest and bubbliest and more internally beautiful of the kids that go to school around Galway are those who live in such conditions. Let us not limit their ambitions, let us not reduce the impact.

News of the potential lifting of this ban is welcome. It is high time that decisions on this contain a shred of empathy so that we can all get an insight into the life of the asylum seeker.

It is not good for any of us to be forbidden from working. For those who have work, it helps them earn and achieve and learn. For those who do not, let there be the adventure of the seeking, and the growing experience to be learned from that too.

Only ourselves and Lithuania in the EU prevent asylum seekers from working. Lifting this will help to improve the dignity, the self-esteem, the mental health of those who live in direct provision. By showing people the sky, we give them something to reach for. I wish them well in their search for work and am sure they will contribute another colourful thread to the rich tapestry that is Galway life.


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