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‘We don’t want to live like prisoners’

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SPEAKERS Pictured at the one-day seminar entitled “Immigration and Ireland” held in the Museum of Country Life, Turlough Park, from left: Natalya Pestova, Mayo Intercultural Action, speaker; Professor Jane Freedman, University of Paris, keynote speaker and Kany Kanyeba Kazadi, speaker. Pic: Ken Wright

Áine Ryan


A former asylum seeker who lived in a direct provision centre in Ballyhaunis has questioned Government’s ‘concept of opening these facilities in rural communities’ where ethnic differences are exacerbated by the separatist nature of the system.  
“Integration does not happen in rural places with this system. It was clear there were two separate communities in this small town. I was always identifiable as a woman of colour walking down its main street. If I had been given the opportunity to work or to up-skill, then it would have been a different experience. Direct Provision has to go. We don’t want to live like prisoners, we don’t need your sympathy, we want to be understood. We have so much talent,” Kany Kazadi said.
Kadazi was speaking at a seminar, entitled Immigration and Ireland, held over the weekend in the National Museum of Country Life, as part of its exhibition, ‘Migrant Women – Shared Experiences’, and in association with the Mary Robinson Centre, Ballina and Mayo Intercultural Action (MIA). It was facilitated by Blessing Moyo and organised by Rosa Meehan and Aoife O’Toole of the museum.
She said she had kept her sanity by signing up for every course on offer but that sadly, ‘some of her friends did not survive the journey, mentally’. There are still over 250 people ‘living in limbo, in isolation’ in the Ballyhaunis centre, Ms Kazadi observed.    
Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kadazi, a physiotherapist, now lives in Castlebar and was donning the Mayo jersey on Saturday evening for what turned out to be a rather disastrous Connacht SFC semi-final for the men in red and green. Indeed, she said that when she returned home for a visit after eight years, she had brought her Dad a present of the Mayo jersey.    
The co-ordinator of MIA, Dr Natalya Pestova, whose expertise is human rights law, said Mayo was now home to 13,500 migrants, which according to the last census, was 10 percent of the county’s population.
“MIA was established in 2004 in response to the level of immigration. [Among immigrants] asylum seekers are afforded the least amount of human rights, live in open-prison conditions and are denied a family life,” Dr Pestova said.
She said the organisation ‘has never received core-funding, which must be established at policy level so that we have to stop begging’. She also  said that while MIA has lobbied and protested outside Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s constituency office, there appears to be a wall around the majority of politicians about migrants.
“Direct Provision has to go. Integration must be accepted and diversity celebrated,” Pestova said.    
Another former resident of the Ballyhaunis centre, Dublin-based artist, Vukasin Nedelijkovic, who as a student in Belgrade protested against the policies of Slobodan Milosevic, read from his direct provision diary.
“I bite my nails; the drops of blood roll over my finger. I look at my hand; in my room, on the piece of paper I write down ”lost” using the same blood. On a different piece of paper, I also write “lonely”. The sun is coming through the dirt of my window. I see the children playing outside. I smell the chicken nuggets and chips. It is dinner time soon.”

European leaders
Professor Jane Freedman, University of Paris, said that politicians calling the refugee influx to Europe ‘a crisis was problematic’.
“European leaders are saying this is exceptional as if Europe hasn’t created any of the conflicts [in the Middle-East] which have led to this. They have turned it into a ‘humanitarian’, as opposed to ‘political’ issue,” she said.
“We have a responsibility to hold our politicians to account for their abject failure in dealing with this. The exhibition here at the museum shows there have always been waves of migration. We don’t need more external and internal borders,” she said.
The ‘fraught’ and ‘discriminatory’ challenges of exiting direction provision and accessing the private rented sector, based on fieldwork in an anonymised Mayo town, was addressed by Dr Mairead Finn.

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To celebrate World Refugee Day (Monday, June 20), Mayo Intercultural Action (MIA) has coordinated an exhibition in 22 of Castlebar’s shop windows reflecting the positive contribution of an interculturalist ethos. The exhibition will be formally launched on June 28 next at 12 noon in the Linenhall Arts Centre and will continue until July 16.

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