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The community garden in Dublin. Jane Moore/
East Wall

'Now I'm included': Asylum seekers in East Wall taking part in community classes and groups

The East Wall Here For All group has started hosting workshops to help asylum seekers learn English and meet other people in the area.

ASYLUM SEEKERS LIVING in the East Wall area of Dublin have said they feel more welcome in the area since taking part in workshops set up by a local community group.

East Wall Here For All was founded in December by residents in the locality to support asylum seekers living in the old ESB building in the area.

The group has been holding weekly donation drives for clothing, toiletries and toys – as well as providing supports for mothers and babies living in the centre. There are a mix of residents at the building – with mothers and children housed on separate floors to the men. Two babies have been born at the centre in recent months. 

The East Wall Here For All group has started hosting workshops in partnership with other community organisations to help the residents learn English and get to know other members of the community.

The workshops are informal and are centered around gardening, knitting, crafts and music. The group has also partnered with DCU’s Irish Refugee Integration Network (IRIN) Project, and a group of the residents are attending English language classes there.

East Wall For All was set up in the wake of a number of protests in the area against the housing of asylum seekers at the old ESB building. Activists say that since the workshops started a few weeks ago, more residents have got in touch wanted to get involved. 

“A lot of the residents were reluctant to leave the centre before Christmas, and I think slowly they’re starting to venture out,” Paddy O’Dea, who is involved with the community group, explained as The Journal visited a workshop yesterday.

In the initial weeks, community members would bring some of the residents out to show them around the area and bring them to workshops or other events. After a while, once they got to know the area and the people, they began to show up more regularly. 

“We will be doing yoga classes in a few days. I think the yoga class is already completely oversubscribed, which shows the interest there.

They all want to get involved. They don’t want to be idle and sitting on their hands. They’re generally young people with a lot of energy and they want to be productive. It’s just about giving them a structure to channel that energy.

Some of the residents have also gotten involved with Sanctuary Runners – a running group where Irish residents run alongside refugees and asylum seekers in their local areas.

“Again, it’s a message of solidarity and people then stick around and go for a coffee or a cup of tea nearby. It’s to help the asylum seekers get to know Irish people and to break down any kind of divides,” he said.

“It’s one of those things where it’s so simple, but it’s just a really effective way of people coming together. It’s free to do, it doesn’t cost anything and for people who maybe are cooped up in the direct provision centre all day long, it’s getting out and exercising and meeting Irish people in a positive environment.”

The gardening workshops take place in a community venue each week. Residents in the centre learn to garden, plant and build through English alongside each other and other members of the local area.

Nathalie Crowley, a university lecturer who volunteers with the group and runs the gardening workshops, told The Journal that after seeing the protests taking place in the area, she wanted to help in any way she could.

“I was shocked. As someone who doesn’t look Irish, I felt really awful because I was walking in my neighbourhood and I was looking at people and thinking ‘who hates me and who doesn’t hate me’. So I felt I had to do something,” she said.

“I wanted to help in a way because I am a migrant. I’m French. I came here to Ireland, found love and stayed, so I understand the way it is to leave your family behind. It’s really hard. Being in a different culture as well, even though I’m 30 years in Ireland, still there are little things that are very different.”

“I’m a lecturer and I was thinking: ‘Do you want to do more teaching?’. And I said yes, that’s what I’m good at, and I love gardening. So gardening, teaching, culture, this makes me so happy because I feel all my skills are coming together to create something that fills me with joy and happiness.”

“I love being with them and talking and they teach me as well. I can also reflect on how they learn and what is it to be teaching and how to teach better and I think I get better at my job as well.

It’s very good for that, touching ground is very good for you and just going outside is great. It’s very good for their mental health, just to come down and have a solace, like a space where there’s no conflict and to just get the sunshine.

One woman from Nigeria, who has been living in the centre since December, attended the gardening workshop for the first time. She told The Journal that she planned to come every week. 

“I love plants and I also love outdoor activities, and I also wanted to see if I can learn one or two things. I will come back,” she said.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, many people have fled their homes Nigeria in the last number of years due to armed conflict and violence.

The woman said living in the community has been positive, but that the recent protests have been frightening.  

“We don’t really know if they are people very close around us or people from afar, you know? The centre alerts us when they are protesting and you have to stay indoors until it’s over.”

Another man living in the centre told The Journal that he had found the protests “frustrating” in the beginning.

“Sometimes it was affecting our life. When they are outside, we have to be locked inside the building so we cannot go out. For people who have got some appointment or something to do outside, when they are there, they cannot go.”

The man, originally from Morocco, said it was “difficult” in the beginning, but that being part of East Wall Here For All and taking part in workshops has improved his experience since arriving in the area.

“The moment we got off the bus, there was kind of protestation and some women recording us in videos. We were overwhelmed and very frustrated, thinking ‘we are going to live in this neighbourhood?’ It was difficult in the beginning,” he said.

The man said after meeting the East Hall Here For All group, they got to know them and they were able to provide necessities such as clothes and toiletries, which improved their living conditions.

Now I’m included. I’m part of the community, you know? So I feel this is my neighbourhood, this is my neighbours.

He said integrating in the community had been a positive experience in his immigration process, adding that if he had not gotten involved in the community and learned about it, it would have made the process more stressful.

He said the gardening workshop is a good way “to be outside and to meet new people”.

“We get the chance to meet other people from abroad, and most of the people around here, they are Irish. It’s a good chance to meet new people, not just stay in the room like we say locked inside your building. It’s good to be outside and to meet new people and go enjoy the life, you know?”

He is now volunteering with the group and helps to run the language workshops. The group holds beginners classes in the centre to try and improve the residents’ English, which could help them create a CV and when they start working. 

“This is in brief what’s already happened since we came over here to Ireland, and I think it’s going now in a good way.”