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I wrote on a piece of paper: 'Another lonely Christmas!’ and stuck it on the wall of my room

Activist and artist Vukašin Nedeljković writes about their three years in Direct Provision, and showing people the ‘everyday realities’ of asylum seekers.

Vukašin Nedeljkovic

I SPENT ALMOST three years as an asylum seeker in Ireland’s Direct Provision system, from early 2007 to late 2009.

My experience made me passionate about providing an insight into the treatment of people who have come to Ireland to seek protection. The diary I kept during that time gives you a sense of what it’s like to live within that system.

On my arrival in Ireland, I remember men, women and children waiting to be assessed. There were many people of different nationalities, speaking their native languages.

Life in a centre

I was brought to a small room where two immigration officials took my fingerprints and my photograph, and I was issued an identity card that clearly stated at the back: This is not an Identity Card. I was called to a window where I officially lodged my application for refugee status.

We were then brought into a minibus to one of the Reception Direct Provision Centres. We didn’t talk on the bus; we looked at each other with agitation and worry.

I was assigned to room 24, which was to be my room for the two years. The window in this room had yellow marks on it, which meant I couldn’t see anything through it, as the marks obscured my view. The yellow marks were on the outside of the window so I couldn’t clean them.

Every day we had to sign at the reception in the centre. At the reception, I noticed a monitor, which showed 16 CCTV cameras. One of the cameras was broken. So, there were at least 15 working CCTV cameras in the centre. There might have been another monitor in the manager’s office. I don’t know. We rarely went to the manager’s office. Only when we decided to complain about our living conditions. We rarely complained.

There were fields at a distance, but they seemed too far away. I wanted to see the fields with my sleepless eyes, but I was afraid to leave room 24. I couldn’t smell the fields. I wasn’t able to smell the wildlife. All this was just round a corner but there were walls and barriers in the way. I was afraid that if I left the  entre, I wouldn’t be able to come back.

There was a Christmas tree in the centre, in the “recreational room.”. The Christmas tree had a few Christmas lights that flickered, but apart from that was bare and it had no life in it. There were no presents below the Christmas tree. It made me sad to look at the Christmas tree. I wrote on a piece of paper: ‘Another lonely Christmas!’ and I stuck the note on the wall of my room.

Coping

While in Direct Provision I was also documenting my experiences by taking photographs – I’d studied Photography at Belgrade’s Academy of Arts. The diary and those photographs were two of the initial elements of what has now become the Asylum Archive project. This project originally started as a coping mechanism while I was in the process of seeking asylum in Ireland myself.

I kept myself intact by capturing and communicating with the environment I found myself in. This creative process helped me overcome confinement and incarceration.

The Asylum Archive project can now be found at our online platform. I have continued to write and to take photographs of the Direct Provision system, and the archive also contains collaborations with other asylum seekers, activists, artists, academics, and immigration lawyers, amongst others.

Together we feed into this accessible documentary online resource, telling stories of exile, displacement, trauma and memory, via documents, images, artefacts and oral histories, all of which are directly concerned with the reality of life for asylum seekers and the trauma involved.

The Asylum Archive is very much a political platform, and an artefact of Direct Provision as to the continuation of the history of carceral institutions in Ireland, bearing in mind that we have very little visual information about the country’s previous incarcerations of the poor, the marginalised and the undesired in institutions including Magdalene Laundries, Borstals, Mother and Baby Homes, Industrial Schools and psychiatric hospitals.

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I am delighted that the Asylum Archive is having its first RHA exhibition 26 November – 19 December. Visitors will be able to see some of my photographs, in which you can experience the architecture of confinement, traces, remnants and ghosts.

The exhibition also includes a focus on Emergency Accommodation Centres and references the latest White Paper on Direct Provision. And we commemorate the unknown numbers of people who have died within the Direct Provision system.

Activist, artist, independent scholar and former asylum seeker Vukašin Nedeljković will have their first RHA exhibition of elements from their multidisciplinary testimonial project Asylum Archive, running until 19 December.

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Vukašin Nedeljkovic

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