(Sunday’s column: this is the unedited copy – so a teency bit more ranty than that which appeared in de paper).
There are 33 million refugees across the planet. To hear some people talk, you’d think every last one of them would arrive in Dublin Airport tomorrow unless those two gardai at passport control keep their wits about them. We can relax. When people flee war, famine and systematic rape they usually run to another neighbouring poor country. If they are just hungry, as opposed to victims of violence, they’ll seek work in, yes, another neighbouring poor country. The world’s 80 million South to South migrants, as they are called, take the lowest, dirtiest jobs going in developing countries with a contiguous border to their own and send home whatever money they can to keep their family from starvation. They’d probably like to move to Ireland, but they there’s no way they can afford to. They’ve probably never even heard of Ireland.
So, yippee, we’re safe from the hordes of black “so-called” asylum seekers who in reality are “only” economic migrants. To be specific: last year the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner received around 4,300 applications for asylum status, 400 of which were granted. Can we handle 400 refugees? Apparently not. Apparently we’ve made it far too cushy for asylum seekers who are running around the country living it up with their social welfare and free flats. Don’t worry. The government has proposed tough new legislation to sort out the process and soon we’ll be able to ship those lying, free loading Africans back to where they came from in double quick time.
Chad on the other hand has taken, so far, 200,00 refugees from Darfur. I wonder can they handle them? With Sudanese militias attacking Chadaians on bordering towns, it must get a bit tricky at times. Oh well, that’s their problem. Give John O’Shea â‚¬50 and he’ll get them some clean water. Or something.
Now back to our problems, and in particular how to handle those cases of photogenic African women with cute children and sob stories about female genital mutilation. Or as Michael McDowell once called them “cock and bull” stories. Pamela Izevbekhai has two daughters, Naoimi (7) and Jemima (5). She had another daughter Elizabeth, but she died aged just 17 months from blood loss after she was mutilated in the brutal procedure that is common in certain areas of Africa including Nigeria.
In case you’re not familiar with FGM it involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. That can mean “just” cutting off the clitoris or labia minora. In Nigeria the version of FGM practicised is called infibulation. That’s where they stitch the labia majora together to seal the vagina, leaving just a small hole for urine and menstrual blood. The girls legs are bound together for several weeks so that it heals into a barrier. When she gets married the husband is then assured he has married a virgin. He’ll break the barrier either forcibly with his penis or cut her open. Whichever. I think its safe to say I’d get myself and my daughters to the other side of the world to escape that if I could. Especially if I’d seen one daughter die from the procedure.
It’s a terrible story and Pamela has won friends and supporters in Sligo where she has lived for the past few years. The story has been backed up although witnesses in Nigeria have been intimidated and are reluctant to talk about it anymore. But, as Amnesty International have pointed out, the facts are not disputed by the Irish state. They officially know. They just don’t care. Even if my daughters weren’t at risk of FGM, if I had the chance to get them out of a poor nation where they had few prospects to a rich one where they had some, I’d take it. After all, its what Irish people have done for 200 years.
Pamela has had a lot of sympathy and support though none from Justice Minister Brian Lenihan, who at the time of writing, wasn’t on for giving her a safe home in Ireland. You can see his point : if you let one in, they’ll all be over on the next flight.
Though there are many cases like Pamela’s, hers has received a lot of attention possibly due to both the prettiness of the daughters and the strength of her friends in Sligo. It has exposed something I have long observed about Irish people and our capacity to hold completely contradictory and indeed, hypocritical positions simultaenously.
Position 1. We can’t allow those Nigerians to come in here, living off the State with their made up stories. If we let some in, they’ll all want to come. The government should do something.
Position 2. That poor women. It’s so sad. She should be let stay. The government should do something.
Position 3. Sure, half of them aren’t asylum seekers at all, they’re only here after money.
Position 4. It’s not fair. My cousin in America couldn’t come home for her father’s funeral cos she’s illegal. The government should do something.
Give us a name, let us meet the woman and hear her story and we will literally march in the street to demand that she be rescued. But this year the government will push through the Immigration, Residence & Protection Bill which will cut out cumbersome appeals procedures, broaden the basis under which foreigners can be deported and insist that a foreigner who wants to marry either another foreigner or an Irish citizen can only do so with the permission of the Minister for Justice. The opposition will make a little noise about it but I’d bet the price of storing unwanted electronic voting machines that the bill will go through without too much fuss. Irish people can find compassion for individual cases but get panic stricken at the thought of “them all” coming over here and so support draconian legislation to keep them, and their stories, out of the country.
Whenever I’ve challenged someone on their desire to protect the illegal cousin in America and their complaints about refugees in Ireland, they’ll usually claim that the cousin pays his own way while the refugee gets services that are being denied to more deserving Irish people. Refugees aren’t allowed work and personally I find it morally reprehensible to let the people at the bottom of the pile fight it out for rent allowance for disgusting flats. We could put the electronic voting machines on a bonfire and free up a few quid for something more worthy.
Still that fear and resentment can’t be shifted. Why are we so afraid of helping these people as we sought help in our millions, in the past? What can they possibly do to us or take away from us? Money? We have plenty of money, just no idea how to spend it fairly.
Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon are the Fianna Fail TDs for Sligo-North Leitrim. If the Minister for Justice thought one of them could lose a seat over Pamela Izevbekhai she’d have some chance of staying here. Their seats are safe but her daughters are not.
Update : Myers makes a good point today (loaded with all the usual provocative statements, but ANYWAY)
” Two-and-half-years ago, a Nigerian idiot named Osagie Igbinidion was found not guilty of the reckless endangerment of life, after a little boy he circumcised, 29-day-old Callis Osajhae, bled to death. The trial judge, Kevin Haugh, told the jury not to bring their “white, western values” to bear upon their deliberations. Describing the case as a clash between two cultures, he added: “This is a relatively recent matter that Ireland will have to deal with now that we have a significant migrant population. You are not asked whether this form of procedure is acceptable in Ireland. If you start thinking on those lines, you are doing Mr Igbinidion a great injustice.”
Just one commentator in the media remarked upon this extraordinary case, in which a man walked free from a court having sexually mutilated and mortally wounded a little boy. Me. I wrote: ” . . . had the dead child been female, I believe that no jury would have been told not to bring their white, western values to bear on the case — or if they had been, we may equally be sure that the judge would not be dangling from the nearest lamp-post . . .”
I do not know what that fine fellow Osagie Igbinidion is doing today.
He has not, to my knowledge, and considerable regret, been deported — nor has he been issued with a court order compelling him to desist from his merry trade (he is a fourth generation circumciser; ah the joys of multiculturalism). So it is as legal to chop little boys’ penises off today as it was then, and if they die as a consequence, the judicial advice rings down the years, not to bring our “white western values” into the case.
But when the infant in question is a girl, then those white, western values are suddenly all we care about; hence the uproar over Pamela Izevbekhai and her two daughters.