By Claudia M. Zedda: Opinion Editor & Ronan Keohane: Student Contributor
On behalf of the UCC Fáilte Refugees Society
The UCC Fáilte Refugees Society, in collaboration with the University of Sanctuary Working Group, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit and many more, are currently organising an exciting and large series of events for the annual ‘Refugee Week’. This week will span from Monday, February 21st until Saturday February 26th 2022.
Refugee Week will take place through both online and on-campus events. Its purpose is to raise awareness amongst the UCC student body and UCC staff at large about issues concerning refugees, to fundraise for refugee NGOs, to rally in the interest of refugee rights, as well as to encourage others in the general public to get involved with the UCC Fáilte Refugees Society and their mission. As a highly active UCC Society dedicated to welcoming the migrant community on campus, it is in their best interests to provide refugees with a platform during this important week.
After last year’s Refugee Week being mostly online, the society is really looking forward to expanding their presence on campus, and beyond, this year. “This year’s Refugee Week is reaching out to and welcoming people from around Ireland and the world to Cork. We will discuss the future of Irish identity, and celebrate the contributions of asylum seekers and refugees to our society”, explains Amano Miura, Chairperson of Fáilte Refugees Society. “We will be engaging with these topics through discussion, through entrepreneurship, through film and through art…it is something we are really proud to be able to present this year.”
There is an exciting array of different events lined up, which includes a community market with various vendors, a poetry gig with some amazing performers from the refugee community, a Korean Defectors webinar (including a North Korean author as a guest speaker), a Rohingya Genocide documentary screening, a community walk/run with Sanctuary Runners, many speaker panel events and the annual Refugee Conference. These will provide any interested student, or staff member, with the opportunity to learn more about a complex set of issues, as well as gain invaluable first-hand insight from different perspectives.
“The most important thing this year was to bring together different groups, different societies, different strands of university life, with a huge emphasis on inclusion, equality and diversity” explains Amano.
Apart from the working groups previously mentioned, other groups involved are the Glucksman Gallery, the Sanctuary Runners, and other UCC societies such as the Environmental Society, Korean Society, Co-Operative Society, International Development Society, Economics Society, Japanese Society and Chinese Society.
“For Fáilte Refugees Society, this is our first time welcoming panellists from overseas and from outside Cork,” adds Chairperson Amano. “For our annual Conference, we have Femi Bankole, founder of Black and Irish, and we have singer and songwriter Pearl-Natasha coming to speak to us. We are really honoured to be able to welcome such incredible guests”.
When asked about what the objective of Refugee Week is, Amano said, “hopefully we will send a message to our political community that young people of Cork are truly concerned about migration issues in Ireland; and to the refugee community that they have the full support of us and that there is a space for them to speak their truths in UCC.”
Updates regarding Refugee Week will be published through social media outlets in the course of the next few days, and will also be widely promoted throughout campus.
Why is Refugee Week so important?
Migrants and refugees who come to Ireland in search of international protection are located in places called Direct Provision Centres. In these centres, groups of people that have never met before, with completely different backgrounds, cultures and habits, are forced to share a room and give up their privacy for what is intended to be “a temporary solution,” of a maximum of six months. However, the average length of stay in Direct Provision is 24 months, as reported by Doras, with some residents having spent up to 12 years living in these conditions. As a result of this, many residents experience declining physical and mental health, self-esteem and skills. Many children born inside the walls of Direct Provision Centres have never experienced what it means to have their own room or private space. Most of these centres are located outside city centres and in remote areas, where they are marginalised and isolated, with no chance to interact with their surroundings and wider communities.
Direct Provision has been described as “a human rights scandal” by Amnesty International, as the system does not take into account any of the state’s obligations towards vulnerable individuals seeking protection. Traumatised by past experiences in their own country, asylum seekers arrive in Ireland with the hope that they’ll be able to build a new life, but instead, their trauma is perpetuated by a system that is supposed to help them.
The Covid-19 situation brought to light how inhumane the Direct Provision system is towards their residents, and why this system needs to end. People living in Direct Provision have experienced the worst aspects of the pandemic, as they had no way to isolate themselves in case of a positive Covid case. The congregated settings they are living in meant that they had to face additional barriers to adequately protect themselves from the virus, including barriers to following Covid-19 public health preventive measures advised by the government.
The UCC Refugees Society believes that university students have a huge power to speak and change the narrative. Solidarity and support are key in these situations, particularly for those who are marginalised by our own institutions. Attending even just one event, sharing a post on social media, or starting a conversation with family or friends can really make a difference.
For a long time, asylum seekers and the migrant community have been neglected and overlooked by society. They were denied a job, recognition of their own national degrees and driving licences, negatively impacting their self-esteem, confidence and sense of purpose. It also prevents them from building a life and being part of the community.
Over Refugee Week, UCC has the opportunity to enhance their voices and to celebrate diversity in Ireland’s communities more than any other time of the year. The university has the chance to show support, and make the migrant community feel welcome, accepted and celebrated. UCC also has the visibility needed to raise more awareness on issues related to the migrant community that are often left out in political settings.
Students who are around campus any day between the 21st and the 27th of February are encouraged to check Failte Refugees’ Instagram, @uccfailterefugeesoc, or to Google “UCC Refugee Week 2022” to see what events are on, where and at what time. With more than 10 events in only six days, Fáilte Refugees are looking forward to seeing students take part in what they believe will be the best Refugee Week in UCC’s history.