UL Sanctuary Week: Student Officers attempt to live on €38.80

Monday, 1st April 2019

This year’s University of Limerick Sanctuary Week is taking place from April 1-4. This is a week to showcase UL as a University of Sanctuary and to bring events and initiatives to the UL Community that celebrate asylum seekers and refugees.

I’m Lorcan O’Donnell, the Welfare Officer in UL Student Life. Alongside Ciara Jo Hanlon, Student Life President, and Matthew Murphy, Academic Officer, we have been really strong this year on our stance against the direct provision system here in Ireland and our deep concerns with the presence of the company Aramark on campus. But with these political stances, it’s also vitally important to support the integration aspect of our Sanctuary students and the educational side of what life in Ireland is like for those seeking international protection. That’s what this week is all about.

One of our main initiatives this week is our efforts to shine a light on one aspect of life in Direct Provision for asylum seekers by living on €38.80 for the week. Our students and all adults that are living in direct provision receive just €38.80 as a weekly allowance. For our students, this means just €38.80 a week on food, transport, clothes, printing, phone credit and any academic costs.

In an effort to stand in solidarity with those in Direct Provision and to highlight the fierce restrictions on autonomy of the residents, we are encouraging members of the UL Community to attempt to live on €38.80 for Sanctuary Week, April 1-7.

While €38.80 may seem like an easy margin for students on a budget, remember this was increased from €21.60 just LAST WEEK. Students more than anyone know how to cut corners when it comes to cutting costs; 30c noodles, pasta and pesto, microwavable meals….but try this for weeks, months, years on end. Nothing left to save, nothing left for a few pints, nothing left even for a ticket for a concert or big event.

Matthew writes:

Last weekend I thought about the €38.80 a week campaign a bit. I planned out my week.

First few days will be easy, I’ll just eat pasta for lunch and dinner. Thursday we have a staff going away party, I’ll need €10 for taxis for that, maybe another €10 for two pints too. On Friday a few of my friends are going to see The Scratch in town so I won’t bother do that. This weekend I’ll do nothing to save cash.

Basically I should be able to survive the week as long as I am careful and I don’t go drinking. But there is a difference in surviving and living. Living involves being able to do things that don’t involve calculating the cost of getting there, staying there and heading back. Restricted living kills the spontaneity that, for me, makes life worth living. And for me, it ends this week.

People in Direct Provision don’t know how long they will need to live on €38.80 a week. People have been in direct Provision for over five years. I earned what they earn in Direct Provision in one year working weekends in a shop than they did in those five years. And I did very little in that shop let me tell you.

Ciara Jo writes:

The reason I have decided to take part in the €38.80 challenge is because I want perspective; I want to experience and see the difficulties that exist on trying to live on such a small amount of money for a week first hand.

€38.80 is expected to cover everything from college supplies, transport, phone credit, lunch and right down to clothes, toiletries or other basic provisions. The challenge is going to force me to think. I can’t go grab that morning coffee, I can’t just hop in my car and go to the shop, I have to prioritise what I want versus what I actually need.

I don’t mean this negatively, but I think “we” as students sometimes take money for granted. Yes we can survive on small amounts and have been known to stretch a tenner to do many wonderful things but usually and for many of us, that is to ensure that we have enough money to go to the stables on a Wednesday or so that we can have good “social lives” and make the most of our time in college.

There are students here on campus who are not afforded the same luxuries, students who are denied the right to work and earn money, students who never get to think about what they want because they are constantly worrying can they afford the things they need. These students and all people living in direct provision are expected to survive off what was €21.60 and what is now €38.80.

So I want to challenge myself to do the same.