We need to show more hu­mane ap­proach to asy­lum seek­ers

Bray People - - OPINION - Fr Brian Whe­lan

THERE was great ju­bi­la­tion re­cently among the so-called ‘un­doc­u­mented Ir­ish’ liv­ing and work­ing in the United States, when Barack Obama an­nounced his im­mi­gra­tion re­form plans. In­deed, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny wrote a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Obama gush­ingly prais­ing him for his ef­forts to help those who have been liv­ing as ‘il­le­gals’ in the States for decades. Pres­i­dent Obama’s im­mi­gra­tion re­form plans are surely to be wel­comed, and cer­tainly a lot of Ir­ish peo­ple will ben­e­fit greatly from them.

Mean­while, Pres­i­dent Hig­gins was in South Africa re­cently, and he made a speech about hu­man rights. In a follow up ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion he was asked about the Ir­ish Gov­ern­ment’s sys­tem of Di­rect Pro­vi­sion whereby refugees are held in cen­tres - some­times for years - as they await the pro­cess­ing of their ap­pli­ca­tion for asy­lum. Pres­i­dent Hig­gins said the sys­tem ‘ by which they are put into places of ac­com­mo­da­tion and may re­main there for eight to ten years is to­tally un­sat­is­fac­tory.’

Surely there’s a bit of the old ‘dou­ble stan­dards’ go­ing on here? Why is it that we treat asy­lum seek­ers and refugees in such an in­hu­mane way, and yet we ex­pect the United States to bend over back­wards to suit the Ir­ish who are liv­ing there il­le­gally? The sim­ple fact is that we have peo­ple com­ing to Ire­land and cur­rently liv­ing here, who have come seek­ing ex­actly what those il­le­gal Ir­ish liv­ing in Amer­ica are seek­ing.

Maybe the asy­lum seek­ers here are even more de­serv­ing of an amnesty, be­cause they have some here to try to es­cape war, famine, tor­ture, gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion, and failed states. We cam­paign for the rights of our il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the U.S, yet we fail to prop­erly deal with peo­ple who have left their coun­tries for rea­sons far worse than peo­ple leave this coun­try.

Yes, there are many ar­riv­ing here who do not de­serve po­lit­i­cal asy­lum, and yes they should be sent away. The prob­lem is in the way we deal with their ap­pli­ca­tion for asy­lum. Rather than im­prison them for years in di­rect pro­vi­sion ‘camps’, we should process their ap­pli­ca­tions speed­ily and ei­ther al­low them asy­lum, or de­port them in ac­cor­dance with the law. It is cost­ing the coun­try more to pay for di­rect pro­vi­sion than it would be to hire more staff to clear the back­log.

As we be­gin the sea­son of Ad­vent, our thoughts turn once again to the Na­tiv­ity Story, and there’s a sim­ple les­son for all of us in it: the baby Je­sus was an un­doc­u­mented refugee child. First of all we re­mem­ber that there was no wel­come when the Holy Fam­ily looked for a place to stay in Beth­le­hem, and they ended up in a sta­ble. We re­mem­ber too that Joseph and Mary had to flee with their child to Egypt to es­cape dan­ger, and that they couldn’t re­turn for years.

Christ­mas is also the sea­son when we cel­e­brate wom­an­hood and moth­er­hood. Much has been made re­cently of the fact that we now have women in all the top jus­tice jobs in Ire­land - the Min­is­ter for Jus­tice, the At­tor­ney Gen­eral, the Chief Jus­tice, the Garda Com­mis­sioner and the DPP are all women. One won­ders does this mean that there will be a more com­pas­sion­ate con­sid­er­a­tion given to those who are about to spend yet another Christ­mas in a di­rect pro­vi­sion cen­tre?

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