Féile Bríde Gathering 2021

Please register here

The brochure can be viewed here

This year’s Féile Bríde notice comes to you with the unsurprising news that we will not be able to gather this February in the lovely surrounds of Solas Bhríde in Kildare. We will miss the fáilte and the hospitality that we’ve experienced from our Brigidine friends and Cáirde Bríde, there – and elsewhere in Kildare – every year since our first event, Brigid, Prophetess, Earthwoman, Peacemaker, back in 1993.

Continue reading “Féile Bríde Gathering 2021”

Submission to Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality: Direct Provision and the International Protection Application Process

Afri is an Irish justice and peace organisation based in Dublin. Afri’s goal is the promotion of global justice and peace, and the reduction of poverty; this includes, but is not limited to, the progressive reduction of global militarisation, and responding to the threat of climate change, corporate control of resources and water, and interference with food sovereignty.

As part of our promotion of global justice, we have in recent years focused on the shortcomings and failures of the Irish state’s system of receiving international protection applications. To this end, we have raised awareness of Direct Provision through our work in schools as part of the Global Citizenship initiative of Irish Aid.

In April 2017 Afri attended a presentation by MASI in the AV Room of Leinster House to members of the Oireachtas about the sudden introduction of a new 60-page questionnaire by the IPO (International Protection Office) sent simultaneously to thousands of asylum seekers in the Direct Provision system with a 20-day deadline to complete it – with legal advice. As this was clearly impossible for the vast majority, if not all, of the international protection applicants in Ireland issued with this deadline, it spread panic and dread among people already under stress from the strictures of living in the Direct Provision system that ties them to food and shelter in conditions over which they are given absolutely no say. After this presentation, we asked Donnah Vuma from Zimbabwe, who spoke movingly at that AV Room presentation, to be one of the leaders of our annual Afri Mayo Famine Walk from Louisburgh to Doolough, May 2017. This is what she said:-

I feel humbled and yet honoured to be here today. I have found it a challenge to say a few words.  But I remember those who walked this path before, the people who 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.

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 1400 miles to get to Serbia’s border with Hungary in the hope of finding peace and a future. Above all, we need to remember those who 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 have brought to mind the words of poet Warson Shire “No-one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”. Amongst us are those who 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 a safety net yet to 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”

  • Donnah Sibanda Vuma, of Zimbabwe, international protection applicant, residing for five years in Knockalisheen Direct Provision Centre, Meelick, County Clare, managed under contract to RIA (Reception and Integration Agency) by international corporation Aramark, at the Afri Mayo Famine Walk, May 2017.

It is to be noted with alarm that many international protection applicants who submitted their cases around that time – May-June-July 2017 – without getting legal advice in order to comply with the 20-day deadline printed emphatically in bold on the official letter they received, are about now or in the near future, if they’ve suffered rejection of their application, grappling with threats of deportation.

This historical violation of applicants’ UN-guaranteed rights has never been satisfactorily dealt with  by the IPO (International Protection Office).  The injustice inflicted on many hundreds of asylum seekers at that time when the International Protection Act regulations were being introduced has never been owned up to nor have any measures been put in place to restore those people’s international rights to protection, which includes transparent process. It was not a transparent process for people trying to meet an impossible deadline, and declining to take legal advice in order to “do the right thing”. It would be a serious dereliction of Ireland’s international duty were anyone to suffer deportation on account of the botched introduction of IPO procedures in spring-summer 2017.

On the issue of deportations, Afri notes with horror that many people have been summarily and forcibly deported without reference to their relatives, including their children. One such case, Vahmra Haratyunyan, having been in Direct Provision for years, and subsequently lived in Galway, was summarily rendered incommunicado and deported to Armenia in August 2018, and his three-year-old daughter Aline and partner Viktoria left to face life without him. Their case was highlighted in the Jimmys’ Hall Today event Afri supported in the Town Hall Theatre Galway in September 2018 during the run of the Abbey Theatre’s Jimmy’s Hall, about Leitrim man Jimmy Gralton, deported for his political beliefs as “an undesirable alien” in 1933. Afri has deep concerns that the issue of wrongful deportation is an institutional phenomenon in Ireland today, as much as in 1933.

In July 2018, Afri was co-convenor with MASI and Anti-Racism Ireland of an event hosted by the Abbey Theatre Dublin, Ireland’s national theatre, called Jimmy’s Hall Today, during the run of the play Jimmy’s Hall there. First Lady Sabina Higgins participated by reading an extract from Edna O’Brien’s novel The Red Chairs prescribed by the author herself, a refugee of sorts from Ireland once upon a time.

The contributions, as well as speakers of testimony enduring DP and extracts from Jimmy’s Hall, also included a  dance piece, It Takes A Village, devised by choreographer Catherine Young, that included thirty dancers from Direct Provision centres in Kerry, Longford and elsewhere. Among them was a Pakistani nurse, Vekhash Khokhar, four years in DP, who was under threat of a deportation order deadline that very date. He spoke from the Abbey Theatre stage about how he would fly out that evening, and hoped to return soon, and asked all present to do all in their power to spare others on stage the fate he was enduring. Despite verbal assurances from several official sources of easing his way back to Ireland once he left the state before the deportation order took effect, once out of sight he has never been given any assistance, and is struggling to continue his life in Pakistan, despite all the issues of danger that drove him to apply for asylum in the first place.

In February 2019 Afri were partners in an event organised by Rose Kelly in Moville, Inishowen, Co. Donegal, where a hotel was designated for use as a Direct Provision centre, with first-hand testimony of Direct Provision from Donnah Vuma and from Fathi Mohamed of Somalia, living with her baby daughter in Ballyhaunis Direct Provision centre for two years.

“It would be amazing to see more of this around the different towns in Ireland, because then we can start to really show the government how unsuitable the system of Direct Provision is, and how we don’t need reform of the system, we need the system to be totally abolished. But it’s also important that people can easily integrate into their communities, and easily pick up where they left off their lives at home, to be able to come into this community, carry on with their lives, and be able to contribute” – Donnah Vuma in Moville, February 2019.

Afri considers that the increasing dispersal of Direct Provision centres to remote regions makes it impossible for people to take up whatever drastically-limited work opportunities might present themselves, as travel is often an enormous problem, and they are not allowed to acquire driving licences while in Direct Provision, a bizarre regulation that defies logic and seems purely punitive.

The IPO interview that every applicant faces for refugee status, possibly the most important of their lives, with their and their childrens’ future depending on it, takes place in the IPO offices in Dublin’s Mount Street. That is a long journey from many DP centres, especially one like Moville, where the shortest travel time, using public transport, would take between 12 and 15 hours each way. How can one be expected to function with alertness in those circumstances? It’s a dereliction of international protection responsibilities that seems almost designed to inflict punishment rather than offer a process of protection.

Recommendations:

  1. The Direct Provision system was designed to be punitive, a “pull-factor deterrent” when it was devised, and it is an enduring and ugly stain on Ireland’s humanitarian reputation since its introduction as a temporary measure almost two decades ago, and must be abolished completely and replaced with a process that respects international protection applicants and treats them with dignity, as is their right as human beings, and as is Ireland’s responsibility to provide as signatory to UNHCR directives.
  1. Reappraisal and right of re-submission for all international protection applicants caught up in the alarming and haphazard introduction of the International Protection Office procedures in 2017 that has resulted in possible wrongful rejection of refugee applications due to lack of legal consultation opportunity, and pursuant deportation orders against people who did not receive due transparent process as described in UNHCR directives on asylum seeker reception procedures.
  1. Forcible deportations must be ended, and the rights of children and partners of those faced with deportation to the rights of parental and/or relationship association must be given due regard and precedence.

 

A Human Perspective on Direct Provision

©Photo by Derek Speirs

Glencrow Hall, Moville

 Saturday, 9th March, 3.30pm

 

With the announcement in the closing months of 2018 that a local hotel had been ear-marked as a Direct Provision centre, Direct Provision became a ‘live’ issue for the town of Moville and surrounding area. As something new to the community and a concept that most of us wouldn’t be familiar with, the discussion that has arisen is both understandable and necessary. The Irish Immigrant Support Centre (NASC) summarises the process of Direct Provision as follows:

‘People who arrive in Ireland seeking asylum or “international protection” (asylum seekers) are offered accommodation by the State in residential institutions, under a reception system known as ‘Direct Provision’. The State ‘directly provides’ essential services, including medical care, accommodation and board, along with a small weekly allowance. The Direct Provision system is overseen by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), a body of the Department of Justice. However, the majority of the centres around the country are privately owned and operated, and the standards of accommodation and living conditions vary widely.’

In order to further this discussion and better understand the reality of living in Direct Provision, a witnessing event is being held in Glencrow Hall, Moville on Saturday 9th March at 3.30pm.

The event will begin with a performance by Donal O’ Kelly of his piece on Direct Provision. Donal O’Kelly is a playwright and actor. In 1999, when the Direct Provision system of asylum seeker accommodation was first mooted by the Department of Justice as a temporary measure, he wrote a poem to challenge its introduction and performed it around the country. Last year, he revived and rewrote that poem as Direct Provision marked eighteen years in operation. He’ll perform the poem and talk about facets of the Direct Provision system, including the current limits on the right to work.

Donal’s performance will be followed by first-hand testimony from Donnah Vuma. Donnah, originally from Zimbabwe, has been living in Ireland for several years in the Direct Provision system with her three young children. She is a board member of the Human and Earth Rights organization, Afri, as well as a member of MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland).

The event is an informal one. Everyone is welcome. Entrance is by donation with all proceeds going to the local St. Vincent De Paul Society.

There will be an opportunity for discussion afterwards.

This event is being supported by Failte Inishowen and Afri

Reflections from Afri Hedge School 2018

“It was absolutely brilliant” was one of the comments made by a student participant in the 2018 Hedge School. The event took place in IT Blanchardstown for the 6th year in succession under the title ‘It is right to fight for human rights’. We had inspirational presentations from Emmet Sheerin of Trócaire, actor and activist Donal O’Kelly and representatives of the Rohingya people.

 

Joe Murray (Afri) with Noor Hasina and Parvena Ackter representing Rohingya Action Ireland and the Rohingya community in Carlow. Photo credit: Stephanie McDermott

 

Emmet showed a short film and spoke about the extraordinary student-led ‘Divest’ campaign, which resulted in three Universities, Trinity, NUI Galway University and Queens in Belfast committing to divesting in fossil fuels; Donal O’Kelly outlined the history and context in relation to the forced migration of people and the Rohingya told the horrific story of what has happened to them at the hands of the Burmese military.

There was also great student participation, as usual, with wonderfully creative drama pieces, powerful music and poetry.

All together a highly successful Hedge School, summed up by another student who said “a fantastic event. Hope the Afri Hedge School continues for many more years to come. It is Invaluable”.

Reflections from Féile Bríde 2018

 

Afri’s 2018 Féile Bríde took place on Saturday 3rd February in Solas Bhríde in Kildare town.  It was a rich and full day with contributions from Peadar Kirby about caring for our global village, Hanny Van Geel (Via Campesina), Rose Hogan (Trócaire) on ‘food for life’, John Maguire on ‘Peace Meal Change’ and wrongfully imprisoned Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle, as well as music and poetry.  You can get a flavour of the day in a short film made by RoJ.

Here is a report from Sr Patricia Mulhall, who attended the conference:

This is the twenty-sixth year of another well-attended Afri conference hosted at Solas Bhríde Centre, Kildare.  As visiting speaker, Peadar Kirby named it, the Ard fheis of Afri. Some 200 people attended in the beautiful setting of the Centre & Hermitages, a centre of hospitality, brightness radiating a warm welcome. Brigidines – Mary, Phil and Rita – organise and manage the Centre with Cairde Bhríde, faithful friends and staff.

 ‘Light out of Darkness’ was a fitting theme for a day punctuated by music and message of hope. Speakers with academic presentations and personal stories enlightened and entertained the participants. The day began with a presentation from Peadar Kirby, entitled ‘Caring for our Global village.’ Peadar is Professor Emeritus of International Politics and Public Policy in the University of Limerick, Ireland. He is associated with the eco-village of Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, a 67-acre site with 50 acres of land for allotments, farming and woodland as well as 50 low- energy homes. Continue reading “Reflections from Féile Bríde 2018”

Short film about the 2017 Afri Famine Walk in Mayo

For 30 years Afri has walked the famine road through the Doolough Valley in County Mayo. It is a walk like no other, abounding in memory, music, history, solidarity and spectacular beauty; retracing the steps of the dispossessed of the past and forging solidarity with the banished and oppressed of today.

The 2017 walk linked the experience of Irish people fleeing on coffin ships or being condemned to workhouses during An Gorta Mór in the nineteenth century with those crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy, rickety boats today, some of whom, if they survive, may end up in Direct Provision Centres for asylum seekers in Ireland.

A short film of the walk was made by RoJ (see above)

“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). Continue reading ““Seeking asylum is by no means criminal””

Famine Walk 2017: From Hunger and War…to a Home and a Welcome?

‘Bog Cotton’ by Choctaw artist Waylon (Gary) White Deer. The painting, among other things, features the Workhouse and the Direct Provision Centre.

From Hunger and War…to a Home and a Welcome?

Saturday 20th May, Doolough Co. Mayo

Registration from 12.45pm in Louisburgh Town hall

Beginning at 1.30pm

Walk Leaders: Donnah Vuma, Abjata Khalif, Danny Cusack

Music: Joe Black

***Register online here***

See also 2017 Famine Walk brochure

For 30 years Afri has walked the famine road through the Doolough Valley in County Mayo. It is a walk like no other, abounding in memory, music, history, solidarity and spectacular beauty; retracing the steps of the dispossessed of the past and forging solidarity with the banished and oppressed of today. 

Extraordinary people have walked this road over three decades and extraordinary stories have been told: stories of food and famine; of oppression and denial of human rights; of wars, violence and the impact of climate change; but also stories of courage and determination; of inspiration, illumination and motivation. And music, song and theatre from some of our greatest artists have been integral parts of every walk. Continue reading “Famine Walk 2017: From Hunger and War…to a Home and a Welcome?”

Reflections from Féile Bríde 2017: Darkness to Light

Speakers U.S. peace activist Kathy Kelly (second from right) and Scottish author and campaigner Alastair McIntosh (right) together with Afri Co-ordinator Joe Murray and Brigidine sister Rita Minehan at the 2017 Féile Bríde conference in Kildare on Saturday 4th February 2017. Photo: Dave Donnellan

When we look at the many problems confronting our world, we can sometimes think that things are worse than ever and that little progress has been made towards creating a more just and compassionate world.  But it is important that we keep in mind the progress made, as well as the challenges that continue to face us.

When we held our first Féile Bríde in 1988, apartheid was still in place in South Africa, the conflict in the North of Ireland was still raging with nightly reports of deaths and injuries and East Timor was under the jack boot of Indonesian occupation.   Continue reading “Reflections from Féile Bríde 2017: Darkness to Light”

Reflections from the Hedge School

ITB students speaking at the Hedge School
ITB students speaking at the Hedge School

The 2016 Hedge School took place in Blanchardstown on November 8th, the same day as the US presidential election.  To our surprise, the latter event seemed to overshadow the former! However, we are confident that the outcome of the Hedge School will be much more positive and beneficial to people and planet than that of the election! The election was a contest between two corrupt multi millionaires supported by arms companies and oil companies while the Hedge School was organized on a shoe string and with the good will of many people.

Sorcha Pollak opened proceedings with a powerful talk on Roger Casement. Casement was a great humanitarian and internationalist, who, having carried out an investigation into atrocities on Belgium rubber plantations in the Congo, was sent by the British government to the Amazon jungle to investigate atrocities committed by the Peruvian Amazon Company, which collected rubber in the region of the river Putumayo. Casement was executed four years later for his participation in the 1916 Rising.

John Maguire further explored Casement’s work in the context of his deepening awareness of the evils of Empire and of its implications for his beloved country and characterised him as an ideal symbol for today. 

Other speakers included Kay Mulhall and, the highlight of the day, Miriam, a former asylum-seeker from Uganda.  Miriam spoke about the gruelling circumstances of her life in Uganda before being forced to leave her country and seek refuge in Ireland. In Ireland she experienced the Direct Provision system which poured salt in the wounds of her previous suffering.

The students made a tremendous contribution to the day in terms of both organisation, and input. They interwove  workshops, music and the writing of a Proclamation into the fabric of the day. Special thanks to Liam McGlynn whose support, collaboration and enthusiasm adds to the very positive experience of working in ITB.