Dr Sheila Curran spoke to us about migrants and refugees. She was born in Donegal. Her soft, friendly voice was comforting. She is a religious sister. She would surely sympathise with the generous Irish who suffered the Great Famine. And gently she led us on.
There are 65.6million forcibly displaced people and 22.5million refugees in the world. 55% of all refugees come from 3 countries: South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria. Women make up at least half of all refugees. Refugees leave on foot carrying basic possessions.
Between 1845 and 1855 1.5million left Ireland in coffin ships fleeing the famine.
Then she challenged us to remember a more recent event when refugees were criticised for being “demanding” and “on a holiday”. Was it the Trump? Was it the African migrants coming across the Mediterranean? No. It was the aftermath of Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972 when 10,000 crossed the border into the Republic. They were described as “refugees” though they were as Irish as any of us. Did we welcome them with open arms? We did not! They were put into army camps including 600 in an army-training depot. Official reports described some of these refugees as “very demanding and ungrateful; even obstreperous and fractious; and some teenage boys were destructive”.
So how has Ireland performed regarding refugees? Very poorly. We have very low refugee acceptance rates – less than 4,000 over several years. We have introduced a Single Application Procedure which has allowed us make 428 forced deportations in 2016 and 251 in 2015. Between 2008 and 2016 28,000 non-EU citizens have been refused entry. There has been an erosion in family reunification rights. Yet in the US Leo Varadkar seeks special treatment for the Irish. Direct Provision has been with us for 20 years now, together with our housing and homeless crisis. Refugees are supposed to be in Direct Provision for less than 12 months while they are processed. Many are there for more than 5 years. They are cut off from Irish society. They are hidden in pain sight. We have no legislation for hate speech in Ireland.
Pope Francis travelled to Lampedusa in 2013. Pope Francis was a refugee from Italy who emigrated to Argentina. Pope Francis’ Action Plan is that we should be Welcoming, Protecting, Promoting and Integrating Refugees.
Love of God is love of neighbour. Who am I neighbour to?
What we are seeing is a Globalisation of Indifference. We need a shift from ‘homogeneity’ to ‘diversity’. Information and facts will not change us. Change comes from the heart not the head. Change of heart comes from Encounter. Refugees contribute; it is a Win-Win situation. We are citizens of the world, the universal church. No human being is illegal.
If you want to take this further you could
- Ask the candidates at the European Elections about welcoming refugees.
- Meet a refugee and hear their story
Sheila finished with Thomas Merton’s “No Room in the Inn”:
“Into this world,
this demented inn,
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.
But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,
and yet he must be in it,
his place is with those others for whom there is no room.
His place is with those who do not belong,
those who are discredited,
who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated.
With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.
He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.”
“The Time of the End Is the Time of No Room”
10 April 2019
Dr Sheila Curran RSM is a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, Northern Province, Ireland. She holds a Doctorate of Ministry, an MA in Biblical Studies and an MA in Equality Studies. Sheila worked in Peru, in South America for many years. Her ministry and research have been shaped by her experience of living and working there, particularly her involvement with the Institute Bartolome de Las Casas, a non-governmental social justice and human rights organisation, where she worked alongside the liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutiérrez. She is currently the Justice Co-ordinator for AMRI.
Dr Sheila Curran's talk can be heard on these 3 Youtube videos: