Our ‘Profound Indifference’ Towards Asylum Seekers?

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Enda Kenny in his apology in the Dail called it a ‘profound indifference.’ He said we were able to put the Magdalene women away because ‘for too many years we put away our conscience.’ He was talking of course about something that had been happening since the beginning of this state and which only finally came to an end in 1996. For Enda Kenny though and most of the audience the idea was that this, the horror that was the laundries, the sin that was the incarceration of innocent women, could all be blamed on the past, that what we were really talking about was 1950s Ireland, about a prejudice and snobbery and false piety that belonged to an Ireland that was now gone. Our ‘indifference’ belonged to the past, our buried ‘conscience’ was now unearthed. For ‘our’ indifference and conscience what we really meant was ‘theirs,’ those from the past. Them not us. Not us, at all.

Which is nice and comforting, isn’t it? As if we were confronting something when in essence we were just blaming it on those who went before. Like being absolved but of someone else’s sins. Still, the history of societies looking the other away, claiming not to have known what everyone really knew, has a sinister history, with even the worst state murders of the last century being characterised by that very thing. Thankfully, we are not within that sphere of inhumanity, but do we even want to share any of those social characteristics?  Do we want to be another society that turned away, that buried our conscience, that lived by indifference, that ‘didn’t know’? Because we do know and if we don’t talk about it we are indifferent or putting away our conscience or lying. For even as I write this, in the small Irish rural town nearest to where I live, there are families living in conditions that I could only describe as deeply unjust, as fundamentally appalling and we all know this, we can all see it as we pass through every day and if we don’t say so, if we don’t say so, what kind of society are we? Will we be the kind of society that fifty years hence someone apologises on behalf of? As the children and grandchildren of those we have incarcerated in grim conditions sit in the Dail audience will yet another Taoiseach apologise for what should never have happened? For in 2013 the people we don’t see aren’t called unmarried mothers but asylum seekers. We don’t see their children or their lives. Profoundly indifferent? I would say that for most asylum seekers that is the best they could say of us.

The United Nations independent expert on human rights had this to say about how we treat those we call ‘asylum seekers’, as if they were not people, individuals from a whole range of backgrounds and countries but a single mass of humanity. ‘I am particularly concerned about the fact that the Direct Provision system aimed at supporting asylum seekers only for a short period of time, up to six months, is now the only system provided, when more than one third of the asylum seekers spend more than three years in such accommodation. This raises serious concerns as to the autonomy and enjoyment of human rights of asylum seekers, in particular their right to privacy and family life, adequate standard of living and adequate standards of physical and mental health.’ Now I don’t know about you but that makes me ashamed. I thought new cars, apartments abroad, maybe membership of the local golf course, were luxuries that might fall away when Ireland’s boom did. I never thought fundamental human rights were a luxury too.

In plain English ‘direct provision’ means that people are housed in buildings scattered around the country, put in different places at the behest of some unseen bureaucracy, excluded from education and employment, with adults given 19.10 euro a week and children 9.60euro. Some families have been in such places for five years with the threat of deportation constantly hanging over them. Boom or bust they never really had human rights. As for the accommodation, well, let us just say they are called hostels and the one nearest here is a failed tourist initiative. As to how the owners of these centres got their piece of the 655.5 million euro the State spent on providing accommodation between 2000 and 2010, well, what do you think? Who do you think they knew?

Should we just keep quiet about this? Take refuge in indifference? What do you think?

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One Response

  1. Almeida

    March 29, 2013 6:31 pm

    +1. Could not agree more.
    Preceeding articles on this website have outlined the situation also; and I have left comment.
    In a ‘bargain’ shop about a year ago, an African woman (speaking French) was minding her youngster, who was crying. I commented in my (kiddie) French. Some general talk ensued, and ‘yes’ they had, formerly, been in an asylum centre. The end.
    Nothing more was said. But I could see rent emotional damage. Even worse, I could see the kid even was wary of the ordinary public.
    What is wrong with (us) the Irish? Are we to be forever a nation of ‘boyys and giirls’? Do we secretly like to be?
    Is our oppressive history a grand excuse to be …….. aaaah, an oppressor? and in some warped way tell ourselves that it is because were ‘better’, ‘deadlier’, ‘bigger’, ‘stronger than’, that for ‘those’ reasons we were oppressed?, when really we probably were just ordinary people.

    The mimesis of the Irish: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.