“Seeking asylum is by no means criminal”

Donnah Vuma speaks at the beginning of the 2017 Afri Famine Walk. Photo Derek Speirs

“I feel humbled and yet honoured to be here today.  I have found it a challenge to say a few words, I actually wanted to say no without giving this a thought, but remembered those that have walked this path before, the people that sacrificed their lives to seek relief for the masses of their village, they did not second guess themselves they took the challenge with swiftness, in the worst of weather and on empty stomachs with nothing but the will to survive.

Thank you to Action from Ireland (Afri) for finding a way of awakening the world at large, to spare time and resources to commemorate this event. In whatever part of the world we may be, we need to remember those that are treated with injustice and inequality for the sake of their political opinions, religion, race and gender. We also need to remember the thousands of families — including infants and the elderly fleeing war and violence in Syria who have to walk more than 1,400 miles to get to Serbia’s border with Hungary in hope of finding peace and a future. Above all, we need to remember those that sacrificed their lives fleeing on coffin ships or those who were condemned to workhouses during the great Irish Famine (An Gorta Mór).

People fleeing their homes, whether during the famine in Ireland or the war in Syria has brought to mind the words of poet Warson Shire “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”. Indeed, amongst us are those that I am here to represent, they have travelled from countries afar to seek refuge among us. No one puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land. I stand in deep solidarity and respect with those that have made such courageous journeys in the past, present and unfortunately in the future, in the hopes of finding safety.

Unfortunately, Ireland has delegated the questionable system of Direct Provision to take care of those seeking Asylum. Seeking asylum is by no means criminal, no one should be punished nor condemned for seeking asylum in another country, no one should serve what seems to be an unending sentence for a crime unknown to one. It is not acceptable to have safety yet live in constant fear and uncertainty of your future. It is painful to live a life in limbo, not to be able to prepare a meal for your children, to be denied the right to work to be able to provide even the bare necessities for your family… to have your dignity taken away and to be restricted from contributing positively to a society or community that has welcomed you and shown you love. Till this day, I pray for a better way, I can’t help but feel hopeless and heartbroken. In my heart, surrounded by masses of people, often in the same predicament, I feel all alone, I close my eyes and picture home. I can’t help but wonder and ask the questions: Is Direct Provision doing enough to address the needs of asylum seekers? Whom is the new International Protection Act intended to protect? Need this country of plenty witness yet another catastrophe? How many more people under Direct Provision should we see lose their sanity or spiral down into chronic illnesses before we say enough is enough?

I am proud and inspired to be an Afri Famine co-walker with you all today, let us all continue to carry the torch for the whole world to see. Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This walk you are ready to embark on will someday change the world.

Last, but by no means least, I would like you to remember what H. E. Luccock said, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole Orchestra to play it”. It will take each one of us and each step we take to make this happen, to make the world see the need. Thank you Afri for making this day happen each year. I wish you strength and motivation as we walk this journey.”

~ Donnah Vuma (Speech given at the Afri Famine Walk, 20th May 2017, Mayo).

Donnah is originally from Zimbabwe but has been living in Ireland since 2014 in the direct provision system while awaiting a decision on her asylum application. 

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