Imagine being arrested for wearing “immoral clothing”. Imagine being detained, beaten, and tortured for taking part in student demonstrations. Being repeatedly stunned by a taser gun, deprived of food, and whipped so hard that you are left with permanent scars across your back and legs.
Imagine seeing your brother shot simply for being a journalist, knowing that you could be next. Working in a field hospital made up of tents as armies from both sides of the conflict close in. Imagine being placed in a prison camp simply because of your ethnicity and sexually assaulted by the soldiers in charge.
Imagine being fifteen years old and told to go with a stranger to a foreign land by your father because he is scared you will be killed. Imagine not knowing if you will ever see your family again.
These are just snippets of some of the experiences of asylum seekers I have met in Ireland. They have witnessed horrors I can barely conceive of and lived through ordeals I don’t think I could cope with and yet they are some of the most resilient, positive and determined people I have ever met.
Today (20 June) is World Refugee Day – a day where people around the world, take the time to recognise the experiences and contributions of refugees, asylum seekers and other forcibly displaced people. Ireland is home to approximately 10,000 refugees, who represent less than 1 per cent of refugees in Europe . Many other refugees who came to Ireland in the past are now Irish citizens. In addition, just over 5,200 asylum seekers are currently living in 38 direct provision centres around Ireland. These people are mostly awaiting a decision on their application for refugee status, subsidiary protection or for leave to remain. A third of them are under the age of 18.
Irish Red Cross Youth Forum 2011 – Youth Members write welcoming messages for refugees in Ireland. Photo: Laura Gallagher Photography
These people come from a myriad of different backgrounds, with different languages, cultures and experiences but one thing they all have in common is their resilience and determination. When we provide refugees protection from their persecutors we also provide them with an opportunity to re-start their lives, to contribute to society and enrich the colourful tapestry that is modern Ireland. People I know who first came to Ireland as refugees are now studying, working and active members of their local communities. Sadly however, many refugees, asylum seekers and migrants still experience prejudice and racism.
Irish Red Cross Youth (IRCY) are working to increase awareness about the humanitarian dimensions of forced migration and tackle negative stereotypes and racism through the Positive Images Project. In this project we introduce the subject material to young people through a series of activities and games. They are given the opportunity to explore various situations and ask themselves how they would react, what would they do if faced with these difficult decisions. Often the leaders I train as well as the young people themselves are shocked to discover the truth behind many of the myths that surround asylum seekers and refugees.
Irish Red Cross Youth Members learn about Positive Images at the 2011 IRCY Forum. Photo: Laura Gallagher Photography
Many IRCY are also in the middle of preparing their entries for this year’s Positive Images Action Project Competition. Young people have been invited to develop creative, interactive presentations on action-based projects within their local community. The entries must be based on the themes of migration and humanitarianism with many groups focusing on the issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers. For more information visit our website.
Irish Red Cross, as part of the global Red Cross Movement is also involved with ‘Restoring Family Links’. This service helps people in Ireland re-establish contact with loved ones after separation caused by armed conflict, political upheaval, natural disaster, migration or other humanitarian crises. Imagine the relief a person feels when they get news that their loved one is safe.
Today is World Refugee Day – a day to recognise the experiences of refugees and celebrate their contributions. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ireland has a great campaign called do1thing – all they ask is that you do one thing, and it can be something as simple as watching a film, to show your support for refugees. My 1thing, is writing this blog post, but it is one of many things that myself, my colleagues, IRC Youth and you can do to show your support for refugees, asylum seekers and other forcibly displaced people in Ireland and around the world. How are you celebrating World Refugee Day?
 27 European Union States, Norway and Switzerland.