Asylum Archive: An Archive of Asylum and Direct Provision in Ireland
"Memory, for migrants, is almost always the memory of loss. But since most migrants have been pushed out of the sites of official/national memory in their original homes, there is some anxiety surrounding the status of what is lost, since the memory of the journey to a new place, the memory of one’s own life and family world in the old place, and official memory about the nation one has left have to be recombined in a new location" (Appadurai, "Archive and Aspiration" 21).
"Rhythm of the wheels, stronger than hunger or tiredness; until, at a certain moment, the train would stop and I would feel the warm air and the smell of hay and I would get out into the sun; then I would lie down on the ground to kiss the earth, as you read in books, with my face in the grass. And a woman would pass, and she would ask me "Who are you?" in Italian, and I would tell her my story in Italian, and she would understand, and she would give me food and shelter. She would not believe the things I tell her, and I would show her the number on my arm, and then she would believe"
Direct Provision Diary: Entry 1
There are many people of different nationalities that speak their native languages. Men, women, and children wait impatiently to be assessed. I was brought to a small room where two forensic officials took my fingerprints; my photograph was taken, and I was issued an identity card that clearly stated at the back: This is not an Identity Card. I was called to a window where I officially lodged my application for refugee status.
We were brought into a mini bus to one of the Reception Centres. The journey seemed long; we could see from the window the streets and people of Dublin. The long motorway took us to one of the suburbs on the South side of the city. We didn’t talk on the bus; we looked at each other with agitation and worry. We were not aware that we would create, upon our arrival, a diasporic public sphere that succeeded the confinement of the State (Appadurai, Modernity at Large).
Kilmacud House, in Stillorgan, is located on the top of a steep hill, beside the Carmelite Lodge and the bus stop. In front of the old building, we can see a large grass area with facilities for children to play. In front of the House there is a massive pine tree and several palm trees beside the entrance. The manager of Kilmacud House admits that he is from Albania. I admit where I am from. We didn’t speak; he was visibly unfriendly, unhelpful and unpleasant. We were brought into our rooms. One room holds around 14 people. There are 7 bunk beds. The beds are metal and painted in black. The room has a high ceiling, and there is an oval wall at the back of my bed. I leave my belongings beside the bed. That night, a man beside me talks over the phone with his solicitor. It seems that he is facing deportation. He appears calm and stable. We spoke for a few minutes. That night I had a dream of detention centres, where Africans are waiting in a long queue for their food. There is an atmosphere of tension and antagonism. In the middle of the room, a big elevator is transferring people. People make noises. I observe. They can’t see me.
The next morning, a Chinese man serves us our breakfast. Porridge, cereal, poached eggs, toast and juice. The food in Kilmacud House is wonderful. There is a variety of different meals: meat, salads, fruits and deserts. We eat at the canteen, on a large wooden table. The table clothes are coated with plastic with white- and red-checkered designs. The plates and cups are made out of aluminum. Residents from the same or neighbouring countries are getting to know each other. They talk and discuss. There is no one from my country. Where is my country located? Where is my country? It used to be called Yugoslavia, before the wars. Now, it is called Serbia. I find it very difficult to explain.
In front of the House, an African man in a wheelchair is laughing. He is from South Africa. His children are playing hide and seek.
That midnight, a young man from Africa is having difficulty breathing. His elderly mother, dressed in colourful clothes, looks agitated. Her son is having an epileptic seizure; he is in severe pain with his knees on the floor. He faints. The security man calls an ambulance. People are looking at the young man. Some of them would like to help, but they don’t know how. Others are just watching. An ambulance comes.
Few days later, I see a young man from Africa, waiting to see a social welfare officer. We are in the same queue. I ask him how is he feeling? He doesn’t respond. Perhaps he doesn’t speak English. He looks tired and pale.
We collect our weekly payments of 19.10 euros. That is our weekly allowance. We are prohibited from work or study. The medical screening, for transmittable diseases, took place on the top floor of the House in a room that looked on to the garden. We were tested for HIV and Hepatitis, among other diseases. The bus took us next morning to a local hospital for the examination of our lungs.
'Heimweh' the Germans call this pain; it is a beautiful word, it means longing for one's home a longing for the home of our childhood, before we were even aware of the consequences of war and displacement (Levi 61).
The next morning, a woman, followed by two security officers, arrives in Kilmacud House. She goes through her papers and calls out some reference numbers; each of us has a reference number that starts with number 69. People start to congregate near the reception forming certain groups. We hear that we will be transferred. Most of us didn’t even meet our legal representatives. There is no explanation. We take our belongings and enter the bus. It is a hot summer day. We leave our friends behind, without even saying goodbye.
We are told to go on the bus. The bus leaves in 20 minutes. Does the bus driver know who we are? We don't know where are we going. We look through the window. It's a long journey. We see the rivers, the grass fields and the blue sky of Irish landscape. We arrive in New Ross. It is a centre for single men, positioned on the hill between the residential houses. The bus driver opens the main gate; we can see a road that leads to The Old Rectory Centre, sheltered with trees, tall plants and hedges.
I see the main building of the Centre. The CCTV camera is attached to the main building; it looks towards the gate. The porch is attached to the main building; it has the glass roof. Further down are the houses that also belong to the Centre. At the back of the houses in a small room, you can see a gym. Some of the residents are trying to keep fit. The pavement outside the main building of the Centre is covered with moss.
There is a Christmas tree in the Centre. The Christmas tree is in the recreational room. At the back of the tree is a wall; at the side of the tree is a small window with a curtain. The Christmas tree is bare. It doesn't have any life in it. The Christmas tree has few Christmas lights that are flickering. It makes me sad to look at the Christmas tree. There are no presents below the Christmas tree. Just the bare tree. I wrote on a piece of paper: 'Another lonely Christmas'! I stick the note on the wall of my room.
My window is divided in half. There are yellow marks at the both sides of the window. The mark on the left side of the window is bigger and wider than the mark on the right side of the window. I can't see anything through the window in my room in the Centre. The yellow marks cover my view. The yellow marks are on the outside of the window. I can't clean the yellow marks. I don't look through my window. You can only see two big yellow marks if you look through the window in my room.
In the canteen, there is an oval wall at the back. On the wall, you can see the five windows. The windows are painted in white; there is no natural light in the canteen. On the floor, you can see the snack and drink dispenser. Beside is a big red fridge with Coca-Cola sign on it. I don't know who can purchase the drink and the snacks in the Centre.
At the reception in the Centre, I notice a monitor. Every day, we have to sign at the reception. The monitor shows the 16 CCTV cameras. One of the cameras is broken. There are at least 15 working CCTV cameras in the Centre. There may be another monitor in the manager’s office. I don't know. We rarely go to manager’s office. Only when we decide to complain about our living conditions. We rarely complain.
I walk around the Centre at night. In front of one of the houses, I notice a dead chicken head lying on the floor. There is blood everywhere. The blood is on the grass. The blood is on the pavement. The blood is in the Centre. The blood is everywhere. What is the head of the chicken doing in the Centre? I feel sorry for the chicken. Where is the body of the chicken? What happened to the chicken? I can see the head of the chicken and the blood around it.
Direct provision scheme was introduced in November 1999. There were over 150 centres located across the country; some of the buildings include Convents, Army Barracks, former Hotels, Holiday Homes, etc. Most of the centres are situated outside of the cities on the periphery of this society. That decision significantly reduced integration with the local population leaving asylum seekers community to dwell in a ghettoized environment.
Asylum seekers live in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions, where families with children are often forced to share small rooms. The management controls their food, their movements, the supply of bed linen, and cleaning materials exercising their authority, power and control (Foucault). According to Ronit Lentin, Direct Provision Centre’s are "holding camps" and "sites of deportability"; which "construct their inmates as deportable subjects, ready to be deported any time" (Lentin). According to Free Legal Advice Centre (2009), these privately owned centres, administered by the Government of Ireland constitute a "direct provision industry", which makes a profit on the backs of asylum seekers (Lentin).
Photographer and theorist Allan Sekula describes Bentham’s idea of the Panopticon where, "the principle of supervision takes on an explicit industrial capitalist character: his prisons were to function as profit-making establishments, based on the private contracting-out of convict labour. For Foucault, ‘Panopticism’ provides the central metaphor for modern disciplinary power based on isolation, individuation, and supervision" (Sekula, “The Body and the Archive” 9).
The archive has to be read from below, from a position of solidarity with those displaced, deformed, silenced or made invisible by the machineries of profit and progress (Sekula, “Reading an Archive" 451).
Diana Taylor explores how the "archive and the repertoire work together to make political claims, transmit traumatic memory, and forge a new sense of cultural identity," arguing that "trauma expresses itself viscerally, through bodily symptoms, re-enactments and repeats," in which "individual and collective memory and trauma are linked" (Taylor; Gibson).
Gibson continues: "displacement is articulated as a form of material auto-ethnography through embodied and sensory means’ in Asylum Archive, where the personal experience of Direct Provision is the ‘context from which this analysis is drawn" (Gibson).
(Nedeljkovic, "Direct Provision")
Direct Provision Diary: Entry 2
Outside the main building of the Centre, there is a wooden bench. The ground, outside the main building of the Centre, is covered with square cement blocks. The wooden bench is wide; several people can sit on it. There are almost no outdoor or indoor activities in the Centre. The residents place two wooden panels on the top of the bench. This will become a table tennis. The wooden panels are not the same size. The left wooden panel is shorter then the right wooden panel. I see residents playing table tennis. There is no net on the table tennis table. One of the tennis racquets has a black head and a green handle; the other tennis racquet has a red head and a blue handle. The table tennis ball is not of a good quality.
I look through my stained window. There are fields in a distance. They seem too far away. I can't see the greenness of the fields. It rains almost every day. The fields are becoming greener every minute. I want to see the fields with my tired, sleepless eyes. I am afraid to leave the room 24. I can't smell the fields. I am not able to smell the wildlife. It is just round a corner. There are walls and barriers on the way. I can leave the Centre to see the fields and smell the wildlife; but I am afraid that if I leave the Centre, I won't be able to come in to my room again. I could be stopped outside the Centre and asked by a stranger: "How are things?" or "Where are you going?" I could be asked by a local the same question. I wouldn't know what to answer. I want to say: "I am going for a walk to see the fields and smell the wildlife." But I am afraid. I say nothing. I make few steps towards the green fields. They are too far anyway. I will try tomorrow again. I go back to my room. I gently open the window; the smell of the canteen enters my habitat.
We can leave the Centre but we always have to come back to get our daily meals. We have to come back to sign in a daily register. Sometimes I sign using Cyrillic alphabet; other times I sign using a Latin alphabet. I am not sure who I am anymore. I have lost my identity on the top of the hill freshly paved with new asphalt. We have lost our Identities. A gentle, young man from Afghanistan rushes down the stairs. He cries. He hears that he lost his brother back home. He is severely distressed as the tears are rolling down on his cheeks. The gentle, young man is hurt. I don't see him in a canteen that evening. I wonder: Is he hungry? How is he? It is beyond terrible that we lose our family members while living in the Centres. It is beyond unacceptable that we can't attend the funerals of our family members, that we are so isolated and lonely. If we leave the Centre, if we leave the State; we will not be allowed to enter the State and the Centre again.
It is warm in my room. The floor squeaks under my shoes. I look at the ceiling; there is a fire alarm. It is noon. Dinner will be served soon. I am expecting chicken nuggets and chips. I have gained weight since I am the Centre. The food is not of a good quality. Most of the time, we are given processed food that has little nutritious value. Our bodies are changing everyday. Our minds are changing every single minute. We don't know what to expect. We don't know what is ahead of us. We lose weight, or we gain weight. We smile, or we cry. Silently. We are in continuous agony. The sound of the cutlery in the canteen reminds me on the first "calls" to join the Military back home.
I go to the canteen to make instant coffee. You can't be drinking too many coffees per day. The coffee is expensive. You didn't earn this coffee, someone says. We thought that we got rid of you, someone else says. No, you didn't. I am still here. This is your last coffee. OK. It is nearly dinner time. What is for dinner? I ask. Nobody replies. "What is for dinner?" I ask myself. Just wait and see.
Direct Provision Centres are the primary focus of my research; the "new" category of institutions that are "deprived of singular identity or relations" where the undefined incarceration is the only existence. The identity of asylum seekers is unknown; "their identity is reduced to having no known identity." Direct Provision Centres are "non-places" where asylum seekers establish their new identity through the process of negotiating belonging in a current locality (Goffman; Augé; Schinkel).
Direct Provision Centres are disciplinary and exclusionary forms of spatial and social closure that separate and conceal asylum seekers from mainstream society and ultimately prevent their long term integration or inclusion. They are, as Erving Goffman notes, "total institutions, forcing houses for changing persons, each is a natural experiment on what can it be done to the self" (Loyal 101). The Direct Provision Scheme is a continuation of the history of confinement in Ireland through; borstals, laundries, prisons, mother and baby homes, lunatic asylums (O' Sullivan; O' Donnell). When the Irish State initiated the Direct Provision Scheme, it deliberately constructed a space where institutional racism could be readily instantiated, explicitly through, for example, the threat of transfer to a different accommodation Centre to deportations.
Direct Provision Diary: Entry 3
In the night, I wake up. I gently open the door of my room. I close the door. The key is in my pocket. I go down the stairs. No body is awake. The Centre is asleep. I open the door of the recreation room. On the top of the shelf, just above the fridge, is the yellow container. In the yellow containers there is white slice pan wrapped in a cellophane. Beside the bread, in the same container, is the butter and jam. The same butter and jam that you can get in some B&B's or even hotels. The CCTV camera is just above the yellow container. I hope no body is watching. I am afraid to ask the security : "Can I please get some butter and jam and bread?" I slowly and secretly take white slice pan, wrapped in cellophane, butter and jam. As I am leaving the recreation room, I can see the fly on the wall. Silent. Almost dead. But still alive.
I open the door of my room. I am not sure what the time is. I don't have to wake up for breakfast. I unwrap the bread. I open the butter and jam. I have no knife. I have to use my fingers to spread butter and jam on the white slice pan bread. My hands are not clean. I have to wash them first. I don't have the soap in my room. I have to go to the bathroom that is at the end of the second floor. I have to leave my room again. What is the best way to get to the bathroom? I take off my shoes. I make my way to the bathroom to wash my hands. I can hear the residents snoring. I open the bathroom door gently. I switch on the lights. There is no soap or washing up liquid in the bathroom at the end of the second floor of the Centre. I wash my hands with water only. In my room; I use my finger to spread the butter on the white bread. Then, in the same room, I use the same finger to spread the jam on the butter that is already on the white slice pan bread. I enjoy it. I was hungry. I can hear the birds chirping. It is almost dawn.
Asylum Archive was originally started as a coping mechanism while I was in the process of seeking an asylum in Ireland; it is directly concerned with the reality and trauma of life for asylum seekers. Asylum Archive’s objective is to collaborate with asylum seekers, artists, academics, civil society activists, among others, with a view to create an interactive documentary cross-platform online resource, which critically foregrounding accounts of exile, displacement, trauma and memory.
Asylum Archive is not a singular art project that stands "outside of society" engaged in an internal conversation; it is a platform open for dialogue and discussion inclusive to individuals that have experienced a sense of sociological/geographical displacement, memory loss, trauma and violence (Kester).
Asylum Archive has an essential visual, informative and educational perspective and is accessible, through its online presence, to any future researchers and scholars who may wish to undertake a study about the conditions of asylum seekers in Ireland.
Through my practice-based doctoral project at CTMP and via Asylum Archive, I am researching a particular time in recent Irish history—from the inception of the direct provision dispersal system in 1999 to the present day—while at the same time creating a repository of asylum experiences and artefacts.
Direct Provision Diary: Entry 4
I hear of a man who had an accident while driving. He is in the hospital. We decide to leave the Centre and visit him. It is always difficult to leave the Centre. He is lying in bed. He can not move. His head is injured. He can't see on one eye. The glass from the smashed window of his car went in to his eye. He can't see on his left eye. The doctor told us that he needs to go to a surgery. He may be able to see through his left eye only partially. I don't know. I am upset. We leave the Centre. I never see that man again. I don't know what happened. I am afraid to ask the other residents that are living with me in the same Centre.
The other man jumps out of his window in the Centre. He is admitted to a psychiatric care in the neighbouring town. We decide to visit him. He is wearing green pajamas. He has a single room in the hospital. That is good news. The nurses are bringing him food. The nurses are checking his blood pressure. That man doesn't speak good English. He nervously moves the beads on his prayer necklace. I remember him doing the same in the Centre. The necklace has big beads. The necklace is made out of wood. It is a prayer necklace. It may bring some relief to this man. I used to know his name.
Like letters with no addressee, these uprisen beings remain without a destination . . . The light that rains down on them is that irreparable light of the dawn following the novissima dies of judgment. But the life that begins on earth after the last day is simply human life (Agamben 5-6).
No body was asking for me today. I get no post. That is good news. I can relax now. I am safe for today; unless they come at nigh. Sometimes they do.
According to Roberto Esposito,
the fact that the growing flux of immigrants is seen—in my view utterly mistaken—as one of the major dangers for our societies shows as well from another side the centrality that the immunitary question has taken on. Wherever new barriers and new checkpoints are set up, new lines of separation appear with respect to something threatening or at least that appears to threaten, our biological, social, and environmental identity . . . The contact, the relation, the being in common, immediately appears as crushed by the risk of contamination' (Esposito 4-5).
One can conclude that asylum seekers are locked/incarcerated in the quarantines/direct provision centres in order to prevent the potential contamination of the Irish State. The immunization is therefore performed upon your arrival in direct provision centre: the vaccine of corrective and disciplinary measures.
And according to Giorgio Agamben,
precisely because they were lacking almost all the rights and expectations that we customarily attribute to human existence, and yet were still biologically alive, they came to be situated in a limit zone between life and death, inside and outside, in which they were no longer anything but bare life.
* * *
If this is true, if the essence of the camp consists in the materialization of the state of exception and in the subsequent creation of a space in which bare life and the juridical rule enter into a threshold of indistinction, then we must admit that we find ourselves virtually in the presence of a camp every time such a structure is created, independent of the kinds of crime that are committed there and whatever its denomination and specific topography (Agamben 159, 128).
Direct Provision Diary: Entry 5
I have a sore throat. My right side of the throat is inflamed. I decide not to go and see the doctor. There is always a big queue in the surgery. I decide to wait to feel better. I wait and wait in the Centre to feel better.
I look at my table. It is an old table. There are lots of scratches on the table. The scratches look like lines. The lines join and intersect each other. They are forming different shapes, different drawings. I can see the shape of an African Continent; a smiley face with one eye missing; a curly hair; a bow and an arrow; a violin; a blade of ryegrass; the stars on the brown sky; a women holding a fish in her mouth; a giraffe; a long, thin seahorse; a baby girl. There is an ashtray on my table. Sometimes I smoke in my room, puffing smoke outside the window. An ashtray has a rectangular shape; it is made out of plastic. At the front of ashtray is a beautiful Irish landscape: green grass, blue sea, and mountains. The ashes from the smoked cigarettes are covering an ashtray; the ashes are covering the beautiful Irish landscape. You can barely see the landscape anymore. I need to wash an ashtray. A ray of sun comes briefly to my room. It is the end of evening. We had our dinner in the Centre. A ray of sun highlights an ashtray. The Irish landscape looks even more contaminated with the ashes from the cigarettes. I will wash an ashtray tomorrow. It is a bedtime soon. Another sleepless night.
In this sense, Direct Provision Centres are "the absence of everything . . . the place where the bottom has dropped out of everything, an atmospheric density, a plenitude of the void, or the murmur of silence" (Levinas 46).
Direct Provision Diary: Entry 6
I am drunk in my room in the Centre. I feel no pain; no anxiety. Everything seems fine. The cheep beer, from the local off-licence, tastes fine tonight.
My nose is bleeding. I let the blood from my left nostril drip into the sink. The sink in my room has a red spots from my own blood. I run the tap and let the water wash away my blood. I go to bathroom to get a tissue. My nose stops bleeding.
I play with my fingertips. I roll the fingertips; touching the thumb and the other fingers on my right hand.
Sometimes I can't breath in the Centre. My nostrils are blocked; I can't inhale through my nostrils. I have to inhale through my mouth. My mouth is getting dry and I have to drink the water in the Centre. The water is not of a good quality. After drinking too much water, I need to go to toilet. Sometimes I feel that my lungs need more oxygen. It is quite claustrophobic in the Centre.
There is a dead fly in the right corner of my window. How did the fly die? It is a big fly. I can't see any spider webs. The spider webs are invisible. The fly is suspended in the air.
I close my tired, swollen eyes. I am asleep. There are no sounds in the distance. The Centre is quiet. The Centre is asleep. How is that possible? I dream the dreams. I dream the pleasant dreams. I imagine that the Centre is quiet. I need to rest.
In my view, Direct Provision Centres cannot be exclusively perceived as sites of incarceration, social exclusion or extreme poverty. Significantly, they can be seen to constitute oppositional formations of collectivity and resistance against State policy in which different nationalities and ethnic groups exist and persist despite the very conditions of confinement created by the State.
The question remains: "How then can asylum seekers be less strangers (Bauman) in a profit making direct provision establishment?" (Nedeljkovic, "Direct Provision")
Can "slow activism" be of value in Irish debates about transforming direct provision, where the activist potential for change is "listened" into existence? (Heim).
Direct Provision Diary: Entry 7
I am lonely and lost. I look at the table in my room endlessly. I am safe in the Centre.
The silence. It is silent in the Centre. The eternal silence that fulfils the hearts of the residents in the Centre. We need to breath. We need to inhale the fresh air in order to live. One day we will leave the Centre. We can't stay in the Centre forever. The experience in the Centre will shape our future lives. We will cope. We will overcome the Centre. The Centre is an entity that has been created by the Irish State. We need to sleep. We need to rest. We need to forget the Centre. We live in the Centre, but we have to imagine that we live somewhere else. We live in the most beautiful, safe and secure places. The grass is green. The roses are red. The walls are yellow. There are no walls. We can walk freely from one place to another. The sky is blue with a few white clouds. The clouds have shapes of our freedom. The trees are tall and healthy, without berries. We need to imagine that the trees have berries. We imagine to climb on the trees in the Centre that have no fruit. We imagine that the trees are not bare. The trees have the shapes of our phobias. We imagine to climb on a cherry tree. There are no cherry trees in the Centre. There are some cherry trees in Ireland, but those trees have no berries. How do we get berries and fruit in an orchard of nothingness? We go back to our rooms. The silence is part of our lives. The silence is omnipresent. We go to bed. We easily forget about the cherries, the berries, and other fruit. You can't get them in the Centre anyway. You have to imagine. You have to imagine that you are not in the Centre. But you are. What are you going to do with your knowledge? Can you imagine that you are living in the orchard of nothingness?
I listen to the birds. Can you hear the early morning song of the birds? The birds are singing outside the Centre. You can hear their song in each room of the Centre. You need to listen. You need to be quiet. You need to be still. You need to hear the music of the birds. The birds are singing their song early in the morning. Most of the residents are still asleep. Nobody in the Centre can hear the music of the birds.
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Vukašin Nedeljkovic is a PhD student at the Centre for Transcultural Research and Media Practice at Dublin Institute of Technology. He initiated a multidisciplinary project, Asylum Archive, to collaborate with asylum seekers, artists, academics, civil society activists and immigration lawyers, amongst others, with a view to creating an interactive documentary cross-platform online resource, critically foregrounding accounts of exile, displacement, trauma and memory.