Friday 28 November 2014

Journey from hell to an uncertain future abroad

Published 24/08/2014 | 02:30

A rally last year calling on the Minister for Justice to reform the  asylum system
A rally last year calling on the Minister for Justice to reform the asylum system

THE decision to flee your home and make a new life in a country where you know very few people and do not speak the native language is not one that is taken lightly.

But fear and paranoia caused by violence and oppression push people to limits they would not ordinarily consider. Watching as loved ones are imprisoned, kidnapped or murdered will usually hasten the decision.

Those who manage to escape these situations have varying experiences but the trauma that forced them to flee invariably leaves an indelible mark on their psyche.

Two-thirds of all asylum seekers currently living in Ireland come from African countries and the vast majority will struggle to receive refugee status, let alone become citizens.

The latest figures from Eurostat show more than 80pc of refugee applications were rejected last year. Those applying for status included: 219 Nigerians, 72 people from the Democratic Republic of Congo and 70 from Zimbabwe, while another 91 fled Pakistan to seek asylum in Ireland.

There are no direct flights to Ireland from these countries and there are no working visas available to those who arrive unannounced. Getting asylum is not a matter of booking a flight and telling passport control you would like to stay on arrival.

The journey of an asylum seeker often ends in tragedy. International criminal gangs offer people living in some of the most dangerous regions of the world the opportunity to leave their circumstances for a fee.

Packed into containers on the back of trucks or stowed away in ships those who do survive the journey regularly end up in forced labour or slavery.

With little knowledge of the language or of their rights many young women end up working as prostitutes. In most circumstances a fee is paid upfront and those travelling are promised employment on arrival. Asylum seekers are prohibited from working legally in Ireland and the work promised before they travel rarely materialises.

Others will travel with false documentation. The international trade of passports is widespread and travel documents can be bought or borrowed for between €1,000 and €2,000. Official passports from residents living in EU countries are often sent by post or brought home by people returning to their countries of birth.

The passports are exchanged for money and a commitment to return the document once they arrive in Ireland and begin their asylum process. Once a passport is obtained, most African asylum seekers will fly to central European cities such as Paris and Brussels before flying on to Dublin.

New Communities Partnership is a network of immigrant support groups around the country, which represent 75 different nationalities. The network's chairman Blaise Tangamu Mwanza said once a passport is obtained there is very little difficulty getting into Ireland.

"When you are travelling from EU countries they don't really check your passport," he said.

Before travelling, the asylum seeker will arrange to meet a contact from their community in Ireland. The contact will have an understanding of the asylum process and guide the new arrival on where to apply for status.

Asylum seekers can present themselves at Dublin Airport or in the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner in Dublin City Centre.

From there, they will most likely be sent to Balseskin Asylum and Refugee Centre, where a medical examination will be carried out, before the long process of applying for refugee status begins.

Sunday Independent

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