A fiver a day in Ireland
As part of the Still Human Still Here campaign which Freedom from Torture is part of, staff and supporters are joining STAR for a week of action in support of asylum seekers (20-26 February 2012). Here Sarah Byrne, 27, blogs about her experiences of living on £5 per day (the national asylum allowance). Sarah is a postgraduate from Ireland and is employed as a mental health development worker. She hopes to pursue a PhD programme in bioethics in the future.
It is the week prior to the campaign and already I have become self-conscious about my spending habits. I realise how thoughtlessly I flitter away money on vacuous things of no incidence at all. I walk from street A to street B (perhaps ¼ mile) and I need a coffee: 2-3 euro. I do not even like coffee, I hate holding the cup whilst it spills on my fingers as I rush to work but I do these things unconsciously. Similarly I press the 1-click buy on amazon and I realise I am completely divorced from the real value of money. My relationship with money could be described as dysfunctional to say the least. I am thinking this weekend and feel a bit nervous, a bit restless about how I am going to make these cuts. And this is only for one week. It seems reasonable to me because it is finite because I know next Monday when the campaign is over, I can return to consumption, I can get my purposeless coffee, I can order books I probably will not fully read. I am nervous that I will not change my habits and about the challenges faced. I live 13k from my work so not having enough bus fare will be a problem. The last time I walked home was probably when I was 17 and had no money left after a night out. I am trying to stay positive though and looking forward to finding free things to do, to spend my time in a meaningful way without the means.
Day one of the week was relatively easy. It prompted me to look into the status of refugees living in Ireland who have become something of a forgotten population. Asylum seekers in Ireland receive 19.10 euro per week in Ireland and 9.60 is allocated for each child. Asylum seekers live in accomodation known as Direct Provision Centres, which are regulated by the Reception Integration Agency. The words 'reception' and 'integration' conjure up positive imagery but it seems very far from the truth. Whilst conducting some research I came across this article in an Irish publication which reveals the experience of an aslyum seeker in Ireland. There seems to be a general sentiment that it is okay to offer substandard services to asylum seekers for it must be an improvement on the services offered to them in their own countries. This goes against any respect for human rights and human dignity. There are many stories of aslyum seekers being given out of date food and even a story told in the above link of glass being found in a salad. Ireland is guilty of treating asylum seekers as second rate human beings and this is not acceptable.
I entered this week with certain things in mind. Firstly, I currently live with my parents so am privy to the luxury of cooking meals with them and availing of food in the house when I myself run out. My main challenge for this week is that my bus fare amounts to 25 euro per week leaving a total of 15 euro for the rest of the week. The first day went off without a hitch but I was thinking most of the day about money and the urgency of not running out. I turned down invitations for tea and drinks but this was temporary. I could just catch up with my friends once the week was over. The finiteness was going to help me through. My total expenses for the first day was 6 euro.
Tuesday was much the same but I had the idea to walk the first mile of my bus route so I saved 1.50 making my total expenditure by the end of Tuesday 10.50.
Many asylum seekers are separated by some or all of their family members. They can suffer from both mental and physical health problems which are often much ignored. They languish for years in a sort of prison waiting to see if their refugee status is granted. Also the threat of deportation is virtually constant so asylum seekers are constantly on edge in light of the possibility of being sent back to their own country.
The third day was the most difficult. I suffer from an auto-immune disorder called Crohns and I appear to be at the beginning of what is called a relapse. My well-being is very much tied in with my diet and I need to sometimes eat specialist foods and was for quite a long period on very expensive medication. Asylum seekers are not automatically granted a medical card (UK equivalent NI card) and it is means tested based on assets and income, the latter seeming ironic as asylum seekers are not permitted to work in Ireland. It got me to thinking of aslyum seekers who may suffer from similar ailments or more serious conditions. I at least could pay for a doctor's visit and buy medication but this is not an option for many asylum seekers. In my work, I have supported many Irish citizens apply for medical cards, bus passes and disability allowance and the waiting list for these applications can take anything from 6-10 weeks.
So my Wednesday was spent horizontal. I was infinitely grateful for the ample cups of tea and warm words ferryied up from my parents downstairs. For the experiences I believe endured by asylum seekers are not just to do with survival on limited means or waiting to find out their status, it is human connection, human relationships and the attempt to call Ireland their 'home'.