Jesuit Missionaries are to be found all over the world today. There are Irish Jesuit missionaries in Zambia, Malawi, Hong Kong, Cambodia, East Africa, Paraguay, and Japan. But just as our missionaries have gone east, many people today are coming west as refugees and asylum seekers. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), with offices across Europe, offers assistance to these people. The offices of JRS Ireland are in Gardiner Place. Egide Dhala, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, found help from them.
When I came to Ireland about six years ago, I found it hard to realise that I was about to start another life, thousands of miles away from what had always been my home. I had never wanted to leave my own country, but in the end I had to leave.
I remember the shame I felt, after arriving in Dublin, at having to submit myself and everything I had with me to officials of the Department of Justice. Everything was checked out, from the content of my bag to the clothes I wore on my back, and then a series of questions followed. All this was very strange to me, and I felt lost, diminished by it all. And yet, worse was to follow. On the streets, I could not communicate with anyone because I could not speak English. I knew nothing about Ireland, her people and culture. I felt completely lost. To many people, I was a sponger in their land. To others, my presence was a threat to the existence of a white Ireland. And to a few, I was no better than a monkey who should go back to the jungle.
Those early days, weeks and months seemed endless to me, as I did not have anything to do. Where was I to go? How was I to make a start? Where could I turn? I could not live here, and I could not go back either. I was nowhere! I was nothing!
Most asylum seekers experience these shocking feel¬ings of worthlessness and hopelessness. They are not prepared for what faces them in their new land: The policy and legislation dealing with asylum issues, both in Ireland and in Europe, give little hope to these vulnerable people.
Eventually, I began to see my new life as a challenge. I have always been one to take on a challenge, in the belief that life consists of failure and success, suffering and happiness. To be an asylum seeker should not be the end of the world, but a chance to find hope in the new situation.
Today I am happy that this happened to me. I was lucky that I got great support from different people at that par¬ticular time of transition and after one year I was finally granted residency here. I am particularly grateful to Fr. Frank Sammon, S.J., from JRS Ireland, whose moral and financial assistance gave me stability, and helped me find my feet in an academic environment.
To those who are still suffering the pain of being asylum seekers I say: I suffer with you. But life is full of hope. Have courage and move forward! Never go back!