Walking in the Footsteps of an Irish Asylum Seeker

Walking in the Footsteps of an Irish Asylum Seeker

by Sr. Rita Kelly MMM                                 Ireland                                     17.05.2024

My first reaction on seeing this photograph was “I hope no -one will steal those poor man’s sandals.” This poignant picture was taken in Mount Street, Dublin. It is a photograph that has stayed with me. I wonder who is person inside the tent? Where did he come from? Has he a family in Afghanistan, Syria, Africa.? Wife and children? Did he leave his home, with the hope of a better life in Europe? Who and how much did he pay to cross borders of hostile countries and oceans? Is he still hoping or is he in despair to find himself in this country, at the western edge of Europe. Does he feel welcomed?

Coming from our own Irish history of emigration and at the same time a desire to be a land of a “thousand welcomes”, there is a sense of being overwhelmed. There were two protest marches in Dublin on the first Monday in May, a Public Holiday. One was an anti-immigration march, and the other pro-immigration. On 16th March when I saw on RTE news the big machines removing the tents on Mount Street, all I could feel was disbelieve. The last time I saw such images was in Nairobi and the Kenyan government breaking up the shanty towns. I did not think I would it happening in Ireland. How did we come to this state of affairs?

Immigration is complexed; there is no easy answer. I am living in Drogheda. Some months ago, the one and only main hotel in the town was destinated to be a centre for Ukrainian refugees. The local people were upset. There was no communication with them from the government. Post Covid, the local politicians, businesses and community have worked hard to improve the town to encourage tourists. The question was asked why were we not part of the consultation? There are many empty buildings in the town which could be upgraded. Sixty empty buildings were counted!! Another good point was made that if Refugees and Asylum Seekers were spread throughout the town, they would integrate quicker with the local people.

Difficult conversations are required at all levels. In many communities in Ireland there are already big issues in the lack of houses, health, and education facilities. Naturally then, there will be tensions when immigrants appear to get houses before local people who have been a long time on waiting lists.

I do believe in the good will of the Irish people. The Tent City has moved from Mount Street to the Canal. I am heartened when I hear the asylum seekers being interviewed and they say the local people and volunteers are kind. However, tensions and anti-immigrants feelings will grow if IPAS (International Protection Accommodation Service) has not the capacity and support to respond. The number of immigrants coming is unprecedented, but we are a rich country and have the resources.

Each person who comes to our shores is a human being with their own hopes and fears. I think of this man who put his sandals outside the tent, and I hope we will treat each person with dignity and not get lost in our conversations and debates.

Exodus 23:9
God of Love, I pray that You fill Your people’s hearts with even more compassion. I pray that the refugees and asylum seekers are not oppressed by those around them. I pray that people do not oppress the foreigners because we all know how it feels to be a foreigner or someone who does not neatly fit in their environment. Let Your people’s hearts be filled with empathy, let those seeking refuge be blessed, Amen.