Do 1 Thing to commemorate World Refugee Day in Mayo on 20th June
World Refugee Day is held every year on 20th June to recognise the experience and contribution of refugees and asylum seekers throughout the world. According to the United Nations every minute eight people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. No one chooses to become a refugee out of a free will. It is to save lives, and risking kidnap, rape or torture, refugees flee their homes to seek asylum in the other countries, including Ireland.
World Refugee Day is commemorated in more than 100 countries around the world. To mark the Day the UN Refugee agency in Ireland is running an awareness campaign: Do 1 Thing, Highlighting that there are so many ways to show support for a refugee or asylum seeker, which each of us can do spending nothing but a few minutes.
We can join this campaign locally in Mayo and do our own 1 thing. For instance, it doesn't cost a cent to learn a fact about people coming to Ireland to seek asylum and to express interest in a refugee living in your community, to get to know more of their culture, traditions, music, or ask for a recipe of their traditional dish. Refugees and asylum seekers living in Mayo flee from many parts of the world such as the DR Congo, Angola, Cameroon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Burma, all bringing their vibrant cultures to our county.
In Mayo we have a settled community of over 100 Karen people living in Castlebar and Ballina, who fled persecution from their own homes in Burma into Thailand and being resettled to Ireland as programme refugees in 2007 by the UN Refugee Agency in cooperation with the Irish Government. Karen the friendliest people who are making their hard steps to integrate into a totally different society. They are always willing to share their tragedy of extirpation by Burmese government, as well as to introduce their rich culture: delicious food, traditional music, sports games and outstanding craftwork.
In Mayo we also have the Direct Provision Centre at the Old Convent in Ballyhaunis, which operates a reception centre for groups of programme refugees coming into Ireland and welcomed many people seeking asylum. The main challenge for asylum seekers living in the Direct Provision Centre is the length of stay in the hostel while waiting for the recognition of their status as refugee by the Department for Justice, the process which takes years and years. Asylum seekers in Ireland have no right to work or study. Years spent by asylum seekers in limbo without action and purpose are harsh and bringing most negative effects on their human condition such as deteriorating mental health and a loss of professional skills. Young people cannot access college or work after their leaving certificate, which deprives youth from the opportunity to develop crucial lifetime ability to earn a living. If you wish to find out more information on the challenges faced by asylum seekers in Ireland it is worth to look up the FLAC report ‘One Size Doesn't Fit All', which is available at http://www.flac.ie/download/pdf/one_size_doesnt_fit_all_full_report_final.pdf.
Volunteering is another option for those who want to get involved and dedicate spare time to refugees living in Mayo. Two befriending groups have been working in Castlebar and Ballina for a few years helping refugees to learn English and to integrate into the local community and they run exclusively by local volunteers. Mayo Intercultural Action (MIA), community group based in Castlebar, works outstandingly on integration of refugees and asylum seekers living in Mayo. In its work MIA also relies on support of many volunteers, who are willing to share their skills, time and positive outlook to make a difference in everyday lives of members of this vulnerable community. All volunteers must be paid a tribute for their outstanding effort. At the same time it is quite remarkable that all volunteers working with refugees and asylum seekers state that they hugely benefit from this interaction and are very grateful for the opportunity to experience real live communication with people from all over the world.
Another thing everyone can do to commemorate the Day is to read a book about refugees' stories or watch the film. There is a list of fantastic films suggested on the UN Refugee agency website http://www.unhcr.ie/do1thing/watch-a-movie, and it may be a great idea to rent out a film and invite friends over to watch it! Libraries across Ireland are highlighting refugee related titles for a period of one or two weeks starting on Monday 18th June with Mayo Castlebar library participating in the campaign. So why not call to your local library over these weeks and borrow a book for you or your children and then share your new knowledge with friends and family? Ballyhaunis public library also marks the Refugee Day by exhibiting fantastic quilts made by women living in local Direct Provision centre and we would like to express our thanks to librarian for facilitating this exhibition.
Living in Mayo in a beautiful peaceful part of the world, overburdened with economic issues and everyday hectic lifestyle, it is easy to stay detached from the suffering and the reality other human beings experience in other parts of our world. We watch news and hear about human tragedies nearly every day, in a format delivered by media, that does not always reflect the true individual perspective and has the effect to makes us used to the ‘bad news'. Nevertheless, the responsibility to experience solidarity and compassion with people escaping death and seeking asylum remains with us as individuals, because at the end of the day we are all a common family of humanity. It costs nothing to do 1 thing, and even 1 thing is worth a lot.
Mayo Integration Forum