Don’t look away, Donegal

I’m 24 years old from this county. She is beautiful and she is complicated. The saying goes: “I’ve never met anyone from Donegal who is not insanely proud to be from Donegal”. And they’re right. Wherever we go, we bring our lilty accents and high praises for the hills.

Tonight I tap four words into search bars and see both the beauty, and the darkness.

A caption over an Irish Independent article from 2018: “Hotel due to be used as direct provision centre in Donegal extensively damaged by deliberate fire overnight.” The darkness.

A 2020 Christmas status which tags Donegal Volunteer Centre and Pobail Le Chéile: “Thanks to everyone in Donegal who donated presents to the children living in Direct Provision”. The beauty.

A new local grassroots campaign entitled Donegal Asylum Seekers Support taking collections ahead of the arrival of the new residents of the Letterkenny DP Centre. Again. The beauty.

A video entitled “Donegal Woman speaks against direct provision centre in her area”. The darkness.

In this video, a woman with the title local organiser speaks at one branch launch of the far-right nationalist political party, The National Party. She begins her speech with statements such as “And that is exactly what they want us to believe, that we can’t change anything” and “You want to make sure that the person next to you is right beside you when you’re going to war”.

She continues: “There is eleven thousand, and maybe three or four thousand of those that are kids, children, born in this country that are homeless. And yet every day we’re letting loads of immigrants in”. She is met with applause.

I’m 24. I love Donegal. But this brings me to tears.

Firstly let us correct the language. Because it matters. Because if we’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s that words matter. To refer to asylum seekers as immigrants (which is defined as a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country and in itself should not be thrown around like a dirty word, failing to recognise the rich tapestry of multiculturalism that immigration offers) undermines their horrifying realities.

An asylum seeker is a person seeking to be granted protection as a refugee outside their country of origin and is awaiting the determination of his/her status. The right to seek asylum is a fundamental human right.

A refugee is someone who has had to leave their country of origin because of “a well-founded fear of persecution because of reasons including their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Asylum seekers are not numbers. They are not lesser human beings — as this woman indicates with her language used to contrast the livelihoods of children in poverty versus the people that she refers to as “loads of immigrants”.

These asylum seekers are humans seeking refuge. They are children. Parents. Brothers. Sisters. They speak. Dance. Laugh. Cry. They hope for education, safety, joy. They are living, breathing, feeling human beings, like me or like you. But not like me or you, they have been separated from their homelands due to unimaginable sufferings. They have seen blood shed. Houses fall. Been victimised by callous regimes and human rights abuses. They have crossed seas to survive.

The title of this article is Don’t Look Away, Donegal. What is that supposed to mean?

It means that I think that you, like I, will have some kind of encounter with an individual or organisation that brings darkness to our county. Perhaps it is an uncle or mother whose dismissive use of language around asylum seekers breeds hostility. Beneath the words, it says “us vs them”. Maybe it’s a Facebook status you see, one that belittles the living breathing humans who are coming to this place on Earth seeking protection from war-torn and oppressive lands.

I’m asking you not to look away because this darkness drips into our future. It breeds hateful rhetorics. It creates divisions. It says “us vs them”.

It tells your little cousin that he can go into school and call that girl names because she is not us, she is different.

It tells a human that they are unworthy because they are not us, they are different.

It tells a hopeful heart that they are not welcome to integrate into this community, because they are different.

It isolates our mindsets in a narrow world view and lets us believe the silly idea that difference is a bad thing. It lets us believe that other humans are not flesh and blood, just like us.

It allows us to turn away and mute the sound when in our own community there are individuals who have faced the greatest hardships. There are individuals now caught in our broken direct provision system who are restricted from working and living on maximum €38.80 a week. Individuals in cramped living conditions who just want a chance at a good life. Individuals in need of that lovely, lilty Donegal welcoming.

If you are one of those who was in the room and applauded that woman’s speech, I’m asking you to seek out reliable sources (some of which are listed at the bottom of this article) and maintain the fundamental human characteristics of compassion and empathy. To bat away the organisations or individuals who repeat the hate-filled message “us vs them”.

Instead of “us vs them”. Try “our”.

Our county. With beautiful people so capable of offering open arms.

Our children. The ones we hope to learn tolerance and kindness.

Our ability. To be charitable towards those who are suffering, and in need of our Donegal compassion.

© The Irish Times

Where you can learn more:

Modern Problem Podcast Episode 1: The Irish Direct Provision Syste‪m‬

Also available on Spotify,back%20to%20their%20home%20countries

(VIDEO) Asylum & Direct Provision — Explained by Prime Time

(FILM RECOMMENDATION) A Girl from Mogadishu