Fr Kevin Hegarty
Christiana Obaro lives in a holiday resort but she is not on holiday. A native of Nigeria and an asylum seeker, she has been resident for three and a half years with her husband and four children in the direct provision centre in Mosney, Co Meath.
Once known as Butlins, it was a mecca for Irish holiday makers in the 1960s and 1970s before they discovered that the sun was a more reliable visitor to Spain.
Christiana and her family were forced to flee their home in Nigeria by the ‘Boko Haram’. This is an extreme Islamist sect which has caused terror throughout the country through bombings, assassinations and abductions.
In April 2014 it abducted over 200 school girls from Chibok town in Borno state, saying it would treat them as slaves and marry them off – a reference to an ancient Islamic belief that women captured in conflict are considered war booty.
They decided to seek refuge in Ireland. They chose to come here because of our positive reputation in Nigeria as a Christian country. Nigerians are familiar with the ministry of Irish missionaries.
Her husband told her that ‘they are Catholics and must be good people. They have suffered things that made them emigrate too’.
Their hope that they would find work quickly and that they would be able to set up a secure home, far from the violent uncertainty of Nigeria. He is a well qualified IT technician. That optimism was soon dashed.
They have languished in direct provision since 2014 as they await a decision on whether they should be granted asylum. Left in this limbo land, there lives have been severely limited.
“You seek asylum. That’s what we did and our nightmare started. We were advised of the do’s and don’t’s. You cannot work, you cannot drive a car, you cannot do any business to make money, you cannot enter university, you cannot live where you want. They will tell you where to live. You cannot cook your own food. They will give you what they want you to eat, you cannot leave your hostel and spend a night elsewhere without permission.” Many asylum seekers have drifted into depression as they await a decision on their applications. The lucky ones know their fate in a year, others have waited between five and ten years. Christiana Obaro is on a daily dose of anti-depressants. What she finds most painful is seeing the hope die in her husbands eyes.
“Apart from the endless fear of being sent back, I see one other fear that shuts down the light in my husband’s eyes. It’s the light of hope, dying, to be replaced by shame, the shame of failing to achieve your dream of seeing your children growing up in a place where you can provide for them. The shame of having your children be ashamed of you.”
The Parish Priest of Portlaoise, Monsignor John Byrne, visited a direct provision centre some time ago. Afterwards he said that: “There are families spending seven or eight years waiting for their status. It is inhumane. These are children growing up in a system which is totally unsuitable to meet their needs. Children have only one chance of childhood. I’ve compared the system to an open prison. I see young people who aren’t able to be involved in any recreation or activity outside school. People are isolated and caught in a limbo.”
Surely we can do better in a country that we often boast is ‘Ireland of the welcomes’.