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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C

'The saddest journey of my life': Asylum seekers on navigating Ireland's immigration process

Asylum seekers who spoke to researchers praised supports such as counselling but said their treatment in some situations made integration difficult.

OVER THE LAST year, researchers at Maynooth University have been interviewing asylum seekers and refugees in Ireland to document their first-hand experiences of what the asylum process is like.

Dr Serena Clark, who was involved in the research, described it as “a way to further understand the everyday experiences of asylum seekers and refugees as lived through the consequences of government policy”.

“Engaging with refugees and asylum seekers who are directly affected by migration processes facilitates a greater understanding of their experiences and accurately measures how existing policies fall short of the humanitarian and democratic principles that these policies seek to uphold,” she said.

In this excerpt from the interviews, a range of people talk about life in Direct Provision, the immigration process, and what it’s like trying to integrate in rural Ireland.

Psychological wellbeing

One interviewee spoke about the support the mental health they received when they arrived to Ireland and how much of a difference it made.

Interviewee 1: “Then I was moved down permanently to Longford where I came across the Longford youth centre. They helped me with counselling. They are amazing people. She noticed that I was going through a lot of trauma and the Longford centre deals with young people who are less than 25 years old. They help them with support.

They realised that I was really traumatised. So they contacted a local counselling service. I attended for about a few weeks. But based on the level of my trauma, the lady advised that they contact [redacted] in Dublin. I had counselling services for over two years, and thank God I was able to overcome my trauma.

“It’s such a tough process because I was thinking a lot and having flashbacks. So they helped me in terms of the counselling and getting myself together, and also I’m able to…help other young people who are going through the same trauma and mental health issues.”

Immigration process

Interviewee 2: “You know when I arrived, I went through the asylum process. It was a tough moment with the whole process starting from the IPO and then going to the hotel. It was just a traumatic experience.

“It taught me many lessons in coping and resilience and just trying to be the best that I can be. You know other people going through the same process, but it was really a tough process.”

Living in Direct Provision accommodation

One woman discussed living in Direct Provision. In this particular experience, she said she was marginalised and dehumanised when she tried to buy a meal for herself and her child in the restaurant in the hotel where the DP centre was located.

Interviewee 3: “But I’ll tell you, it’s a space where I would never wish anyone to be. It’s the worst place to be. When I first arrived at the hotel in Dublin, they gave me the room number and then told me to come to dinner… When I got there, it was just after six, and they said dinner was served until seven, so you have to rush down today. I met this lady she told me where to go and eat so I just left my bags in my room and then I went down to eat, but when I got there, the food was gone.

We were hungry because we had not eaten all day, my child and me. So I decided to go to the hotel restaurant to buy food. A person came and said you’re not allowed to be here, your people don’t eat in here. They eat in there. I said, there’s no food in there. I’m going to buy food here. I showed him my credit card, but he said you are not allowed to be here, and you can’t buy food here. I asked him what I should do? Can I buy room service? He said no, you can’t. I asked him what are we supposed to do? He said I don’t know, but you’re not allowed to be in here. That was the beginning of the saddest journey of my life to date.

Another person shared their experience of living in accommodation in a rural area:

Interviewee 4: “We are kept far from the city, in a very rural area. I feel bottled up, like my life is contained in a bottle. I’ve got nothing to do. I can’t work. I have no life. Even if you are an asylum seeker, that doesn’t mean that you are supposed to be bottled up. You are a person too. You need to have a life.”

Integration into local communities and contribution of refugees/asylum seekers to Irish Society

One refugee who spoke to researchers discussed his experience of living in Longford, and how attempts to get involved in the community.

Interviewee 5: “Integration is a two-way relationship. I’m willing to integrate as an asylum seeker, but the community must accept me. I think there’s this lack of awareness within the Irish community in Longford about asylum seekers and refugees in general, so there is not much understanding or awareness.

“Most people in Longford are unaware of what is going on in Direct Provision. The funniest thing is some don’t think it exists, that [we] don’t live in their own community. There is a total disconnect between the asylum seekers and the community.”

He said asylum seekers have a lot to contribute to Irish society – if they are given a chance:

“It’s the responsibility of the County Council to help people who are vulnerable in society. Asylum seekers are vulnerable and need help. They are aware that the Direct Provision centre is here. Their responsibility is to make the community aware and help asylum seekers be productive in the community, not just gather them and stick them in the centre.

There should be programs that benefit asylum seekers and the community. Asylum seekers have so much potential to give to this country, but there are preconceived assumptions about us. The narrative about asylum seekers is that they just had to take, but that’s not real.

“I think it needs to be changed. So many of us have potential, and we can do a lot to develop this country. The responsibility is on the side of the local authorities to make sure that this is done to create a safe environment for such things to happen.”


One interviewee spoke about the application process and about the way in which he and other asylum seekers are treated by society and the Irish State. 

Interviewee 6: “I think negative perspectives regarding asylum seekers and refugees need to change. We are all human beings. We all deserve to live with dignity and respect. Ireland is a very civilised country.

No one should be doing injustices or ill-treating humans. It’s unacceptable. I hope this issue about ending Direct Provision becomes a reality because it’s projecting a negative idea about Ireland as a country, so it needs to end.

“It needs to be not entirely about Direct Provision…I think it’s about promoting human rights and integration…Its about what we can achieve as a country in terms of development…It is about helping [asylum seekers] in whatever career they want to pursue and seeing how best [society] can support them. I mean, in general, it is beneficial and a win-win situation.”

Access to higher education

One asylum seekers said policy around access to higher education should be changed. 

Interviewee 7: “I will use myself as an example. Last year…I got an offer from [redacted], where I was looking forward to studying at [redacted]. I was accepted, but I couldn’t start, which is still a huge frustration… You have to be in Ireland for at least three years…to get the Susi grant.

And I was deeply frustrated. I have this passion for studying, and I’ve already…got the offer from [redacted], and now I can’t start because of the three-year criteria…The person at [redacted] said they were willing to support me but tried to negotiate with the university to see if they could allow me to pay the EU fee, I think around six grand.

“The university came back and said that’s the law…so I have to pay the non-EU fees, which are close to 14 grand, so it was really frustrating. And I had to defer my space for the next academic year…I think it also isolates us. How can you categorise us as international students? We are not moving around; we’re not.”

Technology to participate in society

Interviewee 8: “To start with, when I arrived…I was transferred directly to Direct Provision. There is no internet…no laptop. You can access Wi-Fi, though it is not good…there are two desktop computers for over 200-300 people.”

Interviewee 9: “There is Wi-Fi at the centre of the Direct Provision centre. There’s a building, and there are houses around. The houses didn’t have WIFI, only the centre. The centre had two to three computers, but they wouldn’t let you use them unless you had a reason…but then, since Covid hit, they were forced to put Wi-Fi into each house, so it’s the same Wi-Fi throughout.”

Researchers at Maynooth University