"My story is a hidden one, you cannot see it written on my face as I walk on the streets."
I am proud to be contributing to Correspondences: an anthology to call for an end to direct provision in Ireland. In being paired with a writer in the direct provision system, my participation was predominantly in a mentoring capacity, that is to help bring writing by said writer (in my case, Donatien Francis) to print, but like everybody else I also contribute a short text of my own.
Correspondences is edited by Stephen Rea and Jessica Traynor, and pairs writers, photographers and visual artists in the direct provision system in Ireland with Irish artists and writers.
I was happy to be invited on board the project, not least given my own personal & family history as a child refugee of war and as a person who has migrated more than once. Comparing circumstances and severity is pointless or even counterproductive, but I can't fail to highlight the humbling effect of what I read in Donatien Francis' memoir writing during this process.
While working with Donatien to prepare his piece 'Never Again' for publication my original intention was to let his words speak umediated; in the end I decided I needed to contribute an accompanying note that gave context to what was printed:
"On receiving Donatien Francis’ original biographical piece for this project – a brisk, grounded, and at times deeply moving 23-page account of national, family and personal history originating in Burundi and landing in Ireland via refugee camps in Tanzania and Malawi, taking in tribal conflict and civil war, genocide, self-exile and asylum seeking, holding back what would be justifiable anger (which we all indulge in regularly in response to so much less) about the indignities of the direct provision system, and finally full of gratitude and hope in the face of such difficulties rendered matter-of-fact, thus step-by-step revealing a remarkable spirit behind the words – I wondered how we could do it justice within the space afforded to him by the anthology. I felt that if anything the 23 pages were begging to be expanded into a longer, multilayered piece cross-illuminating the conditions Donatien inherited, the complex family history with its collective and individual journeys alongside his personal decisions and objectives. It’s clear that we and our policymakers need constant reminders of how easily the unacceptable can become normalised; how utterly commonplace and human the forced migrant experience is and has been throughout history, and how the various comforts any of us are fortunate to enjoy at different times can blind us, often wilfully, to others’ everyday and in extreme cases (which sadly abound) brutal circumstances. At first I wanted to avoid a contribution here so that Donatien’s writing appears without any sort of mediation – and this is why I proposed to the editors to allow many of the grammatical idiosyncrasies or (from a certain perspective) errors in what ended up being Donatien’s own edited account to stand unaltered. But given my insight into so much more than is possible to be represented here at this time, I just wish to place on record this brief note of acknowledgement of his perseverance and spirit. And to underline that experiences like Donatien’s, which we must not forget are still evolving in real time, need to be widely documented, amplified, culturally internalised."
All proceeds from sales of the anthology go to Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), which is an independent platform for asylum seekers to join in unity and purpose, and a collective seeking justice, freedom and dignity for all asylum seekers.
If you are in a position to and wish to support the work of MASI, please buy the anthology - and buy copies for your friends and family also.
Correspondences features work by:
Bulelani Mfaco | Mimmie Malaba | Paula Meehan | Dr Natasha Remoundou | Adam Wyeth | Heidar Al-Hashimi | Sarah Clancy | Dr Angela Byrne | Marwa Zamir | Claire Hennessy | Donatien Francis | Christodoulos Makris | Evgeny Shtorn | Annemarie Ní Churreáin | Emilie Pine | Hina Khan | Stephen Sexton | Batur Nadir | Eileen Casey | Insaf Yalcinkaya | Katie Donovan | Nngcobo Bongamahlub | Elaine Feeney | Donnah Vuma | Arnold Thomas Fanning | Vukašin Nedeljković | Dave Lordan | Cónal Thomas | Owodunni Mustapha | Jane Clarke | Deborah Oniah Blankson | Theo Dorgan | Rehan Ali | Ian Maleney | Catherine Young | Nokukhanya Dlamini | Jessica Traynor