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Elsie Nwaora, Nomaxabiso Maye and Florence Eriamantoe are three women who’ve survived Direct Provision; “a place of punishment,” as Elsie calls it.
“You can see it”, she says, “but you don’t know what to do.”
While a few years ago you might have been able to claim ignorance, surely there’s few people in Ireland who aren’t yet aware of this system of institutional living.
There’s been more coverage lately of asylum-seeker-led grassroots groups such as MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland), the ‘The Right To Work’ campaign, and Our Table. There’s also a growing movement of artists who have first-hand knowledge of what Direct Provision does to the psyche. Writers like Melatu Uche Okorie (‘This Hostel Life’), artist Vulcasin Nedeljkovic, and musicians such as Limbo Activist. On the mainstream side of things, The Irish Times ran an excellent series of interviews a few years back and often covers it in New To The Parish.
There’s been a fair few protests over the years too. It was through one such event where I first met Elsie; when the residents of Kinsale Road Hostel went on strike for ten days in September 2014 to draw attention to Direct Provision as a whole, and specific issues at the Hostel in particular. Footage from that time captures the sense of hope that things could be changed. But nearly twenty years after Direct Provision was first introduced, we’re still marching on the streets, and over 5,500 people are still living in an institution, wherein “you have no autonomy” as Noma says.
Thousands of people trying to survive the boredom and isolation, and the pervasive anxiety about papers. Bringing up children within an institution. Watching close friends and family members being deported. And then after years of this, attempting to adjust to ‘normal’ life, and navigating casual and not-so-casual racism. These are all things I have sought to discuss in the documentary, Life On The Outside.
For someone who hasn’t lived it, maybe it’s hard to understand. “Why’re they giving out? They stay in a hotel, have their meals cooked for them, don’t have to worry about the bills,” people have said to me. If you genuinely think it’s a luxury life please listen to the people who’ve experienced it, then make up your mind.
Elsie, Noma and Florence describe the myriad ways in which Direct Provision was so utterly soul-destroying for them as they lived there for such prolonged periods of time, burdened the sense of isolation and of truly being on the outside of Irish life.
I hope eventually nobody has to tell these stories. But in order to reach that point, their stories need to be heard.
Life on the Outside is funded by the BAI and will be broadcast on UCC98.3FM on October 3rd at 5pm. The podcast will be available here.