5,000 young peo­ple are grow­ing up Ir­ish but live in fear of deportation.

5,000 un­doc­u­mented young peo­ple are grow­ing up Ir­ish but live in fear of deportation – the group Young Pa­per­less and Pow­er­ful is try­ing to raise aware­ness of their plight

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Freyne For in­for­ma­tion visit mrci.ie

In a meet­ing room on Dame Street, 12 young peo­ple are eat­ing pizza and draw­ing pic­tures that rep­re­sent their hopes and dreams (“That’s meant to be a bi­cep to show how strong I feel,” says 18-year-old Aisha. “They said it looked like a chicken wing”).

They wear jeans and base­ball hats and bright T- shirts. Most of them are Mau­ri­tian, although there is one young Brazil­ian here and other mem­bers of the group are from Ge­or­gia, Zam­bia and Botswana. Most of them have been in Ire­land for at least half of their lives and all have Dublin ac­cents. Their moth­ers and fa­thers are in low- wage, clean­ing, car­ing or ser­vice in­dus­try jobs.

The group is called Young Pa­per­less and Pow­er­ful and they make films, they go to sem­i­nars, they paint mu­rals, they talk to their neigh­bours, they meet politi­cians. They’re rais­ing aware­ness. Of what? “We raise aware­ness that we ex­ist,” says 17- year- old Ari­ana, who’s about to be­gin her Leav­ing Cert year.

The Mi­grant Rights Cen­tre Ire­land ( MRCI) es­ti­mates t here are about 20,000-26,000 un­doc­u­mented peo­ple in Ire­land and that be­tween 3,000 and 5,000 of them are un­der the age of 18. They want their sit­u­a­tion to be reg­u­larised. Be­ing pa­per­less brings prob­lems.

To­day the young peo­ple I meet are all around col­lege- go­ing age and some have been ac­cepted into univer­sity, but they can’t af­ford the ex­or­bi­tant fees for non-EU stu­dents ( more than ¤ 8,000 a year). The only jobs they can have are low- paid or cash-in-hand jobs, like those held by their par­ents. They can never travel out­side of Ire­land for fear they might not be able re­turn. They have, since the day they ar­rived, lived in fear of deportation – a let­ter in the post or a knock at the door.

“It’s some­thing we think about a lot,” says 23-year-old Mello.

He and four oth­ers stay to talk to me after their meet­ing. Mi­grant Rights Cen­tre com­mu­nity worker Kate O’Con­nell chips in oc­ca­sion­ally to con­firm a fig­ure or, touch­ingly, to high­light their ac­com­plish­ments, but she lets them tell their own sto- ries. They’re us­ing pseu­do­nyms in this ar­ti­cle, though one ar­gues strongly for us­ing their real name.

O’Con­nell sighs. “We’re try­ing to pro­tect them,” she says. “We dis­cour­age them from iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves. But they’re so pas­sion­ate. Some­times we go to events and be­fore you know it, one of them is stand­ing up ad­dress­ing the crowd.”

“We’re here to take ac­tion, we’re not go­ing to back down,” says Aisha.

“This is our is­sue and if you’re not go­ing to take a step for­ward then no one is go­ing to stand up for you,” says Ari­ana. “We’re rep­re­sent­ing the peo­ple who are afraid to come out of their shell.”

They talk about com­ing to Ire­land. Most came after their par­ents had been here for a while. Not all of them knew they were com­ing to stay, though Mello says he “kind of had an idea. I had a con­ver­sa­tion with my ma on the phone. She said ‘This is your ticket, your way out.’ It’s tough in Mau­ri­tius.”

Did their par­ents ex­plain why they were com­ing to Ire­land?

“My par­ents told me, ‘You’ll have a bet­ter life here and have a good job,’” says Ari­ana. “I was a kid with a big imag­i­na­tion so I was ac­tu­ally ex­cited to come but then my mum was like, ‘ You can’t go there; you can’t do this and you can’t tell any­one you’re here with­out any pa­pers’. That put a big wall be­tween me and other peo­ple.”

Pres­sure to lie

“You feel so much re­spon­si­bil­ity,” says Aisha. “You can’t tell peo­ple who you are, be­cause you don’t know what to say.” What if some­one asks ques­tions? “You have to learn how to lie from a very young age,” she says.

“Or you have to come across as cocky,” says Mello, “telling them to f**k off for ask­ing.”

“I had friends plan­ning a hol­i­day to Croa­tia this sum­mer and I had to say that my fam­ily had al­ready booked a hol­i­day and so I couldn’t go,” says Ari­ana. “That was a lie.”

“It is dif­fi­cult when you grow up in a place and it’s your home,” says Sara ( 17). “And you feel like every­one else, but you can’t tell them that you’re un­doc­u­mented. So you have to lie.”

Do their friends know about their sit­u­a­tion? “Since the cam­paign we’re more con­fi­dent, more com­fort­able telling them,” says Ari­ana.

Do they worry about be­ing de­ported? “Ev­ery day,” says Ari­ana. “You don’t know when some­one will show up at the door and say, ‘You’re un­doc­u­mented. You have to leave the coun­try’. So you can’t do things that nor­mal peo­ple would do.”

“Ev­ery­thing you do,” says Sara, “you worry in case you’re ex­posed in some way.”

“You have to be care­ful about what you say and to who,” says Aisha.

Many of these young peo­ple are un­known to the State, although some of their fam­i­lies have, some­times vol­un­tar­ily and some­times after dis­cov­ery by the au­thor­i­ties, ap­plied for “hu­man­i­tar­ian leave to re­main” through sec­tion III of the Im­mi­gra­tion Act. This is a ter­ri­fy­ing process for them.

Do they know peo­ple who were sent home? They all nod. “It’s very trau­matic,” says Mello. “Some peo­ple might just be at work and sud­denly im­mi­gra­tion turn up,” says Sara.

“One of the cases I know, some­one told im­mi­gra­tion about this whole fam­ily – im­mi­gra­tion went and checked the whole place out and they got put on a flight,” says Ari­ana.

I ask the group if they could be de­ported. “Of course,” says Mello. “You’re told that all the time and you’re afraid and there are trust is­sues about be­ing rat­ted out. For teenagers throw­ing ran­dom tantrums and be­ing a bit re­bel­lious, you have to be ex­tra care­ful be­cause when all of your Ir­ish friends are act­ing out on the streets, you’re more wor­ried. With them it’s like, ‘Look at me.’ With me it’s like, ‘Yes sir. No sir’ . . . We’ve grown up watch­ing our par­ents be­ing scared to walk to the shops, con­stantly para­noid.”

Have they had any par­tic­u­lar rea­sons to worry? “When I was go­ing to be do­ing the Leav­ing Cert they asked for my PPS num­ber,” says Aisha. “They asked when I first went to school but we pre­tended to not hear the ques­tion. I thought this was the end, that I wouldn’t be able to sit the Leav­ing Cert, but we took the risk and ap­plied for one.”

So what type of work do their par­ents do? “Clean­ers, kitchen porters, things like that,” says Mello. “We’re like the Mex­i­cans in Amer­ica.” “Mello!”ex­claims Kate. “But it’s true,” he says. “We get to do all the s** t jobs. You’re go­ing to grow up to wash dishes or be a cleaner. The only way to make money is cash- in- hand jobs. And ex­ploita­tion is a big is­sue.”

Res­i­dency pa­pers

Later, He­len Lowry, the MRCI’s com­mu­nity work co-or­di­na­tor, tells me that most of these young peo­ple’s par­ents have PPS num­bers from their ear­lier days in the coun­try and con­se­quently pay tax, de­spite not hav­ing res­i­dency pa­pers. There are a f ew, rare, un­doc­u­mented peo­ple in well-paid em­ploy­ment but most are on the min­i­mum wage or less.

Do they feel their par­ents are ex­ploited be­cause of their sta­tus?

“Of course,” says Mello. “You can see it on their faces.”

“They’re tired,” says Ari­ana. “They don’t get fair wages.” “But they don’t com­plain,” says Mello. “None of us com­plain,” says Ari­ana. They avoid of­fi­cial­dom. They don’t call the po­lice even when they need them. Mello re­counts a story about an un­doc­u­mented friend not call­ing the Garda after be­ing stabbed and Ari­ana tells me about help­ing some­one after an as­sault.

“My ma and da gave out to me for just be­ing there. ‘ What if the po­lice came down? You could have brought trou­ble on the whole fam­ily.’ We have to ac­cept any­thing so­ci­ety throws at us – racism, bul­ly­ing . . . We’re taught to stay quiet.”

“If some­one says, ‘You f***ing Paki’ you have to laugh it off,” says Mello.

Later he talks about a well known broad­caster who in­sisted on us­ing the word “il­le­gal” in­stead of “un­doc­u­mented”. “Can you imag­ine how hurt­ful it is hear­ing that at a young age?” he says. (The MRCI re­ject the word “il­le­gal”. “[Be­ing un­doc­u­mented] is an ad­min­is­tra­tive breach not a crim­i­nal act,” says O’Con­nell.)

‘‘ We have to ac­cept any­thing so­ci­ety throws at us – racism, bul­ly­ing ... We’re taught to stay quiet ‘‘ The only way to make money is cash-in­hand jobs. And ex­ploita­tion is a big is­sue

Do they feel Ir­ish? “I feel hu­man,” says Mello, “but the way we get treated some­times is not very hu­man.”

“This is our home,” says Ari­ana. “I know if I get my pa­pers, I’m only go­ing to go visit Mau­ri­tius. I wouldn’t be able to live there. This is where I grew up.”

Mello thinks for a mo­ment. “Some­times there’s the pres­sure of try­ing to fit in,” he says, “[ I re­mem­ber] be­ing in school with t hes e peopl e who ar e n’ t li k e me [won­der­ing] ‘How do I be­come like them?’ You study them: How do they walk? How do they talk? They move in this way. They do this in class.”

He slumps down, throws his arm over the back of the seat and then throws his leg ca­su­ally across the seat be­side him – a par­ody of ca­sual lad­dish­ness. Every­one laughs. “Hey I’m one of them. You lose a sense of iden­tity a bit. And you get laughed at as well and you try to fig­ure out, ‘ What am I do­ing wrong?’”

Tourist visas

They all live near one an­other in the north Dublin i nner city but they only met through the group. In gen­eral, their par­ents came on stu­dent or tourist visas and then went un­der the radar when those visas ex­pired. They sent money home be­fore even­tu­ally send­ing for their chil­dren who ar­rived on tourist visas.

“We would have been taught to stay on our own quite a lot so they could work,” says Sara. “Some might say we came to claim the dole but I’ve been told over and over by my par­ents we’re not here to get the dole. And we’re not al­lowed claim ben­e­fits any­way.”

“We were very iso­lated,” says 18-year-old Kwayne. “When I came I didn’t have any friends. I was the only child. My ma and da would leave me at home when they had to work. I was 11. I had a very lonely life un­til I got into first year and made friends. But I still didn’t tell them I didn’t have pa­pers. When there was a school trip I had to say my pass­port was get­ting re­newed. None of my teach­ers knew.”

“I don’t think peo­ple un­der­stand when you talk about the lone­li­ness and the quiet des­per­a­tion and the de­pres­sion that comes with it,” says Mello. “Chil­dren want to be lis­tened to, they feel lonely, they need friends and I’d just got moved from the jun­gle, from Tarzan-land, into the con­crete . . . I lived in a box with my mam work­ing from sun­light to the moon – no friends, no in­ter­net. I would play bas­ket­ball by my­self. I was 14 and I saw [Sara’s] brother. He didn’t look Mau­ri­tian to me but he ap­proached me and told me about this youth club. And then I saw other Mau­ri­tian peo­ple.” He laughs. “‘ Whoo – I’m not alone.’ It was good to fi­nally speak my lan­guage – that Cre­ole.”

“My mam and dad were like ‘Don’t talk to any Mau­ri­tian, they’ll tell im­mi­gra­tion on you’,” says Ari­ana.

Com­mu­nity

“I only knew one Mau­ri­tian girl,” says Aisha. “She lived on the same street and she thought I was In­dian. We never talked and we went to the same school and would walk by each other for a year and then I got the courage and said, ‘Are you from Mau­ri­tius?’ and she said, ‘Yes’ . . . Now I know a whole Mau­ri­tian com­mu­nity.”

Do they feel more Ir­ish than their par­ents? “Of course,” says Mello. “[ Our par­ents] made con­scious de­ci­sions to move and find a bet­ter life, but their per­son­al­ity and val­ues and be­liefs had al­ready been shaped in this other place . . . But you grew up with some­thing way dif­fer­ent – a dif­fer­ent game, a dif­fer­ent set of rules, a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment . . . [My] whole per­son­al­ity was shaped around youth work­ers and teach­ers and peo­ple speak­ing English. I didn’t play the same parts they used to play grow­ing up or eat the same food they ate or chase the same type of girls me da was chas­ing at my age.” Every­one laughs.

“They’re start­ing to ac­cept the fact we adopt Ir­ish ways,” says Sara. “They have more un­der­stand­ing of that now that we’ve been here long enough.”

“Sim­ple things like speak­ing English,” says Mello. “They look at you and say ‘Look at you. Say that word again.’”

“They have a dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tion of the way a girl should be dressed,” says Ari­ana. “Here it’s more out­go­ing and they say, ‘ You wouldn’t be wear­ing that if you were in Mau­ri­tius’ and I’m like ‘Mam!’”

“When we go shop­ping my mum says, ‘ Oh look that’s a nice dress.’ I’m like ‘ For you or for me?” says Aisha. Every­one laughs again.

Mau­ri­tian food is bet­ter though, says Ari­ana. “I can adapt to any­thing Ir­ish but the food.”

“I like a good full Ir­ish break­fast,” says Aisha. “I like Tay­tos, I have to say,” says Sara. Their im­me­di­ate prob­lem, if their sta­tus isn’t reg­u­larised, is ac­cess­ing fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion. Sara just did the Leav­ing Cert and would like to study law at NUI Gal­way. She knows that if she doesn’t get res­i­dency rights she won’t be able to af­ford the huge fees for non- EU cit­i­zens. Kwayne is in a post- Leav­ing Cert course ( PLC). These cour­ses are more af­ford­able and eas­ier to ac­cess. Ari­ana hopes to some day study ma­rine bi­ol­ogy. Aisha was ac­cepted into an arts de­gree in Maynooth but had to de­fer. In the mean­time, she did a PLC. “I got seven dis­tinc­tions and two mer­its but it’s just a piece of pa­per be­cause I can’t do any­thing with it.”

Mello is a bit older than the oth­ers. He vol­un­teers at a youth cen­tre and is an in­cred­i­bly tal­ented mu­si­cian, rap­per and singer. I’ve seen him per­form.

“You get de­mo­ti­vated by what’s hap­pen­ing,” he says. “It weighs heav­ily, psy­cho­log­i­cally and phys­i­o­log­i­cally . . . but the mu­sic lib­er­ates me. I don’t feel any fear when I per­form. I’m in the zone . . . Peo­ple in the in­ner city say, ‘I can re­late to that’, be­cause it’s not about be­ing Mau­ri­tian or Ir­ish, it’s about hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. We all strug­gle and de­spair.”

Men­tal health

This is all very dif­fi­cult for them, and as Mello points out, it could have con­se­quences for their men­tal health as they get older. The MRCI staff spend a lot of time keep­ing them feel­ing em­pow­ered and up­beat. (On the evening we spoke they were en­gag­ing in a spe­cially de­vised lead­er­ship pro­gramme). The Young Pa­per­less and Pow­er­ful group is a cam­paign­ing group. They want reg­u­lar­i­sa­tion for peo­ple who have been in Ire­land a long time, es­pe­cially for young peo­ple who have grown up in the coun­try. Most po­lit­i­cal par­ties favour some form reg­u­lar­i­sa­tion, though Fine Gael hasn’t yet taken a po­si­tion on it, and 69 per cent of Ir­ish peo­ple sur­veyed by a Red C poll are in favour of reg­u­lar­is­ing the sta­tus of peo­ple who have been in the coun­try a long time (this goes up to 79 per cent when asked about young peo­ple such as the group I talked to).

Un­til then, these kids worry about hav­ing to re­turn to Mau­ri­tius. “We’ve noth­ing there,” says Ari­ana. “Our lives are here.”

“Mau­ri­tian peo­ple might not ac­cept us be­cause of the way we talk and move,” says Mello. “There’s a sense of maybe not fit­ting in any­where.”

“I’m sure if one of us did some­thing re­ally cool, like be­come a No­bel Prize win­ning sci­en­tist, then Ir­ish peo­ple would say, ‘Yes, this girl was here,’” says Aisha.

“We know this is def­i­nitely where we be­long,” says Sara, “but it does breed anger be­cause there’s this pa­per say­ing you don’t be­long here.”

“The only thing stop­ping us is that bit of pa­per,” says Ari­ana and her eyes widen with the in­jus­tice of it all. “Just a bit of pa­per.”

Un­doc­u­mented mi­grants – part of the Young Pa­per­less and Pow­er­ful group meet­ing on Wed­nes­day at a mu­ral at the MRCI of­fice on Dame Street. PHO­TO­GRAPH: ALAN BETSON

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