The University Observer View: Irish students must reject xenophobia and welcome asylum seekers

Our front page lays bare the intransigence of the State in relation to the welfare of those in direct provision. The story of a UCD student who travels from a direct provision centre in Waterford every day is shocking, but tells us little that we do not already know about the apparent will of the State to isolate and demean these humans. At every juncture, from the pitiful weekly allowance, to the right to employment and the provision of education supports, the State has demonstrated at best, a reluctance to engage with the reality of a dehumanising system, and at worst, a determination to strip asylum seekers of their autonomy. Either way, they have shirked their obligations.

Despite the determination of the government, asylum seekers have, more recently, asserted their rights and have been vindicated in doing so. The introduction of grants for asylum seekers in many universities around Ireland, and the Supreme Court’s decision in 2018 to allow those in direct provision to seek employment (a decision largely muted by onerous restrictions introduced by the minority Fine Gael government) has, to some extent, vindicated the human rights of asylum seekers.

As they search for ways to integrate themselves into Irish society, inching away from the talons of a State playing the unenthusiastic host, asylum seekers must have their worth recognised and emphasised. They have always been more than a report in the news and more than the application forms, clinically assessed in the Department of Justice. Now, as some are taking their rightful place as our peers in universities and in workplaces, Irish students must welcome them graciously, and reject the tribalism and xenophobia which has seen attacks on accommodation centres for asylum seekers, such as those in Rooskey, Co Leitrim this month and in Moville, Co Donegal, in November. Most of all, students must work to build a country where humanity is valued and where the prospect of abysmal living conditions are not leveraged to deter asylum seekers.

As with the student who has so graciously came forward with their story, the determination and courage of asylum seekers to join and contribute to Irish society must be respected, welcomed and admired. By doing so, students can demonstrate to the State that there is little appetite for the foot-dragging which has characterised their approach for so long.