As part of Refugee Awareness Week, Student Group ‘UCD Welcomes Refugees’ had a UNICEF exhibition called ‘Uprooted’ on display in the O’Brien Centre for the entire week. The exhibition was curated by seven Irish third-level students: Aoife Macnamara, Megan Ennis, Mairelise Robinson, Codie Drake, Selin Ozturk, Meabh Hennelly, and Madeline Kelly, on behalf on behalf of UNICEF Ireland. It features 20 photos, each a snapshot into the life of a young refugee. UNICEF said that the aim of the exhibition “is to facilitate a wider conversation on campuses around Ireland about the rights of children and young people and the responses we have made as individuals, communities, nationally and as Europeans to refugees and migrants seeking a safer and better future.”
Their stories span the globe, from Sawakat Ara, who is one of the 1.2 million Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh: the world’s largest refugee settlement, having fled ethnic persecution in neighbouring Myanmar, to Aleksey, who lives without water or electricity in below freezing temperatures as one of the refugees displaced by the Ukrainian crisis that started in 2014.
Many are displaced by climate change and natural disasters, like 17-year-old Anna who cares for her daughter and her four siblings. They live in a make-shift shelter in Beira, Mozambique since Cyclone Idai destroyed their house in March. But there is an eternal optimism among their stories, like that of Nakisha, who was deported to Honduras with her mother and siblings for trying to cross the US-Mexican border, but remains hopeful that she will make it to American in the future; “I want to go one day but with the proper papers… I want to go, because of high school, college and all that.”
Azhar is an 18-year-old Syrian refugee living in a camp in Greece and helps teach English, mathematics and Arabic, “Sometimes I feel trapped, but in my books, my study, I can feel freedom… The sense of being needed gave me purpose and hope. It gave me a way to forget about our situation.”
The final photo is of two young women meeting Mary Robinson. Natasha, aged 14, and Minahil, aged 15, met while staying in the same centre for asylum-seekers in Ireland. They were living in this temporary accommodation, waiting for their applications to be processed, for 4, and 9 years respectively. The photo card reads, “They are best friends, forming a special bond through their shared experience of fleeing their home countries, living in limbo as asylum-seekers, being separated from family members and very recently, receiving legal status to remain in Ireland.”
It is a triumphant end to the photo series; there is joy in seeing those who have fled disasters and violence find safety and friendship in their new home. Yet it’s also the photo that should connect with the Irish psyche most. Not just our beloved former president meeting young girls, but refugees taking solace in and making a home of our country. When confronted with stories of displaced children, it might be easy to rationalise inaction through location: what can a student in Dublin really do to help a child in Mozambique or Ukraine. But this final photo is a reminder of those who to come to our country to seek asylum; we have the ability to help them, to pressure the government to reform the dehumanising system of Direct Provision and to welcome refugees to Ireland with open arms.
At the end of the photo exhibition was a ‘wishing tree’ where students had written message of hope to hand from the branches. Other events that took place over the week, organised by UCD Welcomes Refugees, a screening of the documentary Welcome To Germany in collaboration with FilmSoc, a solidarity dinner held in collaboration with Amnesty International UCD and UCD Labour and a panel discussion featuring RTE’s Suzanne McAuley and Dr. Muireann Nií Raghallaigh of the UCD School of Social Science.
By Muireann O’Shea – CoEditor