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Cold storage: This is what six years of a work ban under direct provision is like

Lassane Ouedraogo was declared a refugee by the Irish State but feels that the system stripped him of dignity and freedom.

Image: Shutterstock/Kirill Savenko

AS SOMEONE WHO has lived through the reality of the working ban for asylum seekers for over six years I can tell you my life has been deeply affected. Our basic instinct as human beings is to want to live with dignity, and to know you are valued in the society you live in.

To be made feel useless and dependent is the opposite of what freedom and dignity means. Asylum seekers are often highly qualified, ie, in medicine, IT, engineering, education, business.

Barring us from working is wasting precious talents, skills, knowledge and importantly the ability to contribute to Ireland’s development.

There’s so much to gain from allowing people seeking asylum the right to work. To leave home and seek refuge is far from easy. In fact it’s one of the hardest things a human being will face. If from the moment we arrived we could be supported to be part of life here, to be independent and have the freedom to live life with dignity, the damage caused by the trauma of seeking refuge in the first place would be lessened.

If people seeking asylum were supported to have a sense of humanity and allowed to integrate into the communities that are now our homes, everyone would benefit, including the economy.

Mental illness

For a healthy society to exist the State has a duty to step up the fight against discrimination and social exclusion. From the UN to local groups the inhumane treatment asylum seekers have been subjected to has been widely criticised. The mental illness, and all the problems linked to forced segregation are devastating and has a deep impact on the lives and future stability of entire families forced to live in the direct provision system.

I know from direct experience how hard it is to be forced to lie idle, to feel worthless, to feel the frustration of not being able to use my skills and experience. It is devastating and tore the heart out of me, for far too long.

Many people waiting to be recognised refugees are left sitting in limbo for years. Imagine what it means to be left in what is effectively left in cold storage, waiting to be allowed pick up the pieces of your life again.

Severe deskilling

The Direct Provision system and the ban on working leads to severe deskilling, fosters a lack of self-esteem, destroying people’s confidence and in the process turns us into double victims.

The Irish government says it is committed to supporting an intercultural society. For this to happen they must make it possible for solidarity and relationships to cultivate and grow. This is not possible as long as people are kept segregated in direct provision centres.

Being able to work means having colleagues and peers, what a positive step towards fostering positive dialogue and open dialogue between people from diverse cultures and experiences. This can only have a positive impact on society.

What would be nearly as bad as the total ban that exists right now would be if the government decided to give a ‘half right’ or in other words if people seeking asylum were told they couldn’t work full time or confined to certain jobs. Imagine being a qualified nurse but told you can’t work in this profession or told you can’t start your own business or use the skills you have spent years developing.

According to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to work and to protection against unemployment”. Considering Ireland has been championing human rights on the global stage it’s time they walked the talk at home and allowed people seeking asylum the right to work and to live with dignity and freedom.

Lassane Ouedraogo was declared a refugee by the Irish State after six years in direct provision. He had fled political persecution in Burkino Faso and had been in fear for his life. He now works in a third-level institution.

About the author:

Lassane Ouedraogo

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