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‘I don’t think it is very helpful’

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MAKING HIS POINT Bulelani Mfaco has criticised the Achill protest. Pic: MRN Photography

Edwin McGreal

A leading campaigner for asylum seekers in Ireland has taken issue with the ongoing protest at the Achill Head Hotel on Achill Island.
The hotel was set to be an emergency centre for Direct Provision but plans were halted by the Department of Justice and Equality over what they said was because of the protest at the hotel.
Protestors say they are campaigning against what they say is the ‘inhumane’ system of Direct Provision and they have been staging a 24 hour a day protest continuously since Tuesday, October 29.
However, Bulelani Mfaco, a South African native who is in Direct Provision in Clare since 2017, has been critical of their position. He is a leading member of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI).
Mr Mfaco spoke to The Mayo News in the wake of giving a presentation of his experiences of Direct Provision at a talk organised by the Achill Says Welcome group in Keel on Sunday, November 10 last.
“I think it is hard to believe they suddenly woke up and said they wanted to protest against inhumane Direct Provision. The fact that there was never any protest against Direct Provision in Achill until plans for a Direct Provision centre in Achill shows the true motive, in my opinion,” he said.
News of plans for the use of the Achill Head Hotel as an emergency centre broke in Achill on Wednesday, October 23. Initially the Department said there would be 38 men arriving but, following negotiations, this changed to 13 women arriving on November 1, followed by 25 people, comprising of family groups, the following week.
However the plans remain in limbo.
“There are 13 women who are seeking some sense of stability,” said Mr Mfaco. “Right now they do not know where they will be tomorrow. They cannot settle, they cannot do anything with their time. At least if they knew where they were going to be for three months, they could start to learn the language, live in the community and integrate.
“I don’t think it is very helpful to block people. We want to end Direct Provision but I don’t think we are going to wake up tomorrow and see that it is suddenly gone. It will be a process of phasing it out.
“It is stressful enough in Direct Provision without the stress of placards too. Irish people have moved all over the world.
“We all have the same hopes and dreams as humans. We all want to learn, to earn and to belong. Those of us in Direct Provision have already been rejected by our own countries and we want a new home. Ireland is our chosen place of sanctuary, our place to call home,” he said.

Seeking refuge
Mr Mfaco fled South Africa because, as a gay man, he feels under threat in his homeland.
“In 2017 a young lady was abducted because she was gay and shot dead in a field. I took that as a death threat to everyone who was gay. I came to Ireland and not long after that another gay couple were killed in South Africa. I have no intention of going back there,” he said.
His application was rejected in July and he is currently in the process of appealing that decision. He had previously studied in Ireland and has a first class masters degree in politics from UCD. He argues that Direct Provision needs to be drastically overhauled.
“As a gay man I’ve had to share a room with a homophobic person casting slurs. It is dehumanising. In Direct Provision you have very little control over what people take for granted.
“With MASI we are looking for a fairer system. We want the Government to stop leaving people in limbo by improving the processing system. I was 16 months in Direct Provision before I was called for my interview. I can’t get that time back, I could have had my PhD studies completed or been earning money in work for over a year. So much is taken away from people’s lives. There are people five years in Direct Provision. So the Government need to improve the processing time.
“Secondly, they need to allow people to work and support themselves. Right now people can get a permit for six months but that means it is practically impossible to get anything but low paid, short term work and that is very precarious. People in Direct Provision should be allowed work at least 12 months and be able to renew it after that.
“Thirdly, people in Direct Provision should be treated the way Irish people would be expected to be treated themselves. A lot of families are staying in Direct Provision a long time, in one tiny bedroom for five years with no privacy or dignity. Imagine a kid coming of age in that bedroom. It is very dehumanising,” he said.