19 July 2001 Edition
Abuse of immigrant workers
On Friday, 6 July, bus workers picketed the Department of Justice in protest at the recent deportation of one of their fellow workers, an asylum seeker from Romania, whose leave to stay in this country had been terminated by Justice Minister John O'Donoghue. Andre Burlacu had been working for two years for Dublin Bus while seeking asylum here.
Nothing shows more clearly the outrageous situation which is developing in this country in relation to work permits for asylum seekers and for immigrant labour. Although the government is looking for some 300,000 workers to come to Ireland from countries outside of the EU over the next four years to meet the demands of the National Plan, asylum seekers, who have often undergone terrible risk to get here, are denied the right to work. Meanwhile, Tánaiste Mary Harney goes searching for immigrant workers who are permitted to come on limited stay with work permits.
The issue was raised at the recent ICTU conference, where Pat Bolger, a delegate from IMPACT, warned of the danger of creating a racist society if workers did not set about constructing an anti-racist workplace.
Delegates referred to instances of employers grossly exploiting immigrant workers, especially in meat and poultry factories and on fruit and vegetable farms. The ICTU delegates voted in support of an effective anti-racist trade union action plan. It is a matter of urgency.
Scapegoating the innocent
Evelyn Tshibanju came to this country from Cameroon four years ago, when death squads and police threatened her life. She was a political activist, a member and secretary of a local branch of the Social Democratic Front, the main opposition party in the Cameroon.
She finally reached Ireland, applied for asylum, and was recognised as a refugee two years ago. But the very day she moved into her Dublin apartment, which through luck and good friends she managed to get after living in the notorious Tathony House and other `refuges', she found a notice on her window, ``Nigger, go home''.
``I can't take any more of it,'' she says. ``We have been in this apartment for three years. My daughter, Eleanor, who is 18, is afraid. Last Saturday, stones broke the window of the room where she sleeps. It was the third time our flat has been attacked. But all the time there are people up against our windows, which front onto the street, shouting racist abuse. Even when I go to the shops I hear it. And they are not just young people, but older people too.''
In despair and fear, Evelyn went to the papers, which carried her cry: ``I am asking people to have mercy. This is a country of human rights, of Christian people.'' Last Saturday she called the Gardaí. ``They came after an hour. They said I was hysterical, that I should calm done. They really didn't want to know. They were going to do nothing. It was as if it was my fault.''
Jennifer Wallace, a member of the Northwest Inner City Area Netork Intercultural Working Group, based in Stoneybatter, says ``there is certainly a level of racism. It is evident and not just in Dublin. There are initiatives trying to counteract it.''
Waterford Against Racism, a new group set up to tackle the rise of racism, recently picketed Tánaiste Mary Harney over the implicit racism of government policy towards refugees. It places the blame for the rise of ``low-level racism'' at the door of the government, whose policies scapegoat refugees for the ills of Irish society while refusing them the right to work.
The government's policies profess that 90% of refugees are ``bogus'' and should be got rid of as fast as possible. Then there is ignorance, untruth and rumour, which play on people's justifiable anger that they can't get what they are entitled to - housing, sufficient welfare money to live on, or the treatment they need in hospitals.
``It's easy to scapegoat black faces, and the minister's sound bytes encourage these resentments,'' says Deirdre O'Shea, who works with the NGO Residents Against Racism. ``But where people have taken up the issue in the community and positively set about counteracting the rumours and the fears, communities have welcomed refugees and asylum seekers, black or white, for what they are, people driven from their homes.
``It is terrible that someone who has been through what Evelyn has already suffered has been treated so badly that she must plead for mercy through the newspapers. It is shameful that she and her family have had to continue to live in fear.''