UPDATE: How did the UL Student Life Officers fare out during their #38euro80 Sanctuary Week challenge?

Monday, 8th April 2019

For Sanctuary Week at the University of Limerick, the three student sabbatical officers at UL Student Life attempted to live on €38.80 in an effort to stand in solidarity with those in Direct Provision. Here, they give us a final update on how they fared with the campaign:

Lorcan O’Donnell, Welfare Officer:

I have lost. I was tipped over the edge having to buy lunch on Friday afternoon. Ciara Jo and I attended a meeting with other Governing Authority members that was catered by Aramark. And given UL Student Life’s boycott of Aramark services given their record in profiting from the Direct Provision system, I had to buy lunch in Stables and that took my final few euro. I was disappointed with myself. Definitely thought it could be done but the smallest of things that we take for granted can just build up when you’re on such a restricted budget. Disappointed but not defeated as I had the luxury of being able to use my wages and/or savings to get me over the line. I didn’t have to wait for next week’s allowance, didn’t have to ask to borrow money from a friend, I got on with it. 

The aim of the week wasn’t actually to see if it could be done. The aim was in fact to show how incredibly hard and unfeasible this allowance is. To show that this one part of living in Direct Provision, just like the system as a whole, is not fit for purpose. It takes away the dignity, autonomy and self-respect of its residents and treats them like prisoners with their crime being seeking a better life.

Sanctuary Week was an outpouring of support and solidarity for some of the most marginalised in our society. Our challenge now is to keep this support going and continue to find ways to show all those seeking international protection that Ireland and Irish people are a source of love and friendship that will stick by you in the darkest of hours. 

Ciara Jo Hanlon, Student Life President:

The challenge is over for me but not for everyone! 

Arriving into work on Friday morning, I treated myself to a scone, bringing my balance to under €10. On Saturday I used the rest of the money on fuel for my car as I had a match back home which swiftly brought me to €0. Would I say I succeeded with the challenge? Yes, and no. Did I manage to live off €38.80 for the week? Technically I did, but I was lucky that things like my rent, phone credit, electricity etc. weren’t due and that Lorcan kindly sponsored lunch on Friday so I could get home at the weekend. If the challenge took place this week, I would already have lost by a substantial figure as my car tax is up.

The week made me extremely thankful for the little things, like the fact that I have access to a kettle and a microwave in work, or that I live a five-minute stroll from the campus, or even the fact I have access to a kitchen at home and I can cook for myself whenever I want. 

My #38euro80 challenge has come to an end and I have to admit that I found the week a lot more challenging than I originally thought. The challenge really highlighted for me the simple things that I take for granted. I’ve said before but it has made me stop and think before I buy anything.

Realistically if it’s a thing that I really needed to go over €38.80 for an emergency or if I was badly stuck for something, then I could. I know that! I am very lucky and privileged enough to be able to do that.

This week (week 12), life has returned to normal. There is no restriction on what I can and can’t spend. I get to walk away from the challenge and return to normal. I am lucky. The same cannot be said for our friends, students and all residents currently living in direct provision all around the country. If they use the full €38.80 in a week that’s it! It’s a waiting game, they have to wait until the following week rolls around to be able to get whatever it is they need. 

Something that Matthew said during the week has really stuck with me and that is the important difference between living and surviving. How do we expect the people living within the Direct Provision system in Ireland to have any quality of life when they are barely given enough to survive?

Matthew Murphy, Academic Officer:

My balance at 5pm Friday is €11.50, which should guarantee me a fairly dull weekend. To be honest, I feel like I cheated as I had to get my laptop repaired this week. I’ll have to pay €25 once I collect it, so I won’t collect it until next week which kind of bends the rules.

As you can imagine, €38.80 is not designed to facilitate capital expenditure. It will let you get by, but the second anything breaks, it’s essentially finished. The longer you are in the Direct Provision system, whatever belongings you managed to bring with you fade, become shabby or break. Clothes that might have been a source of pride to you years before become a source of shame, a sign of your poverty. It might be a small thing but it must be demoralising. 

Anyway, if I was an asylum seeker and I had to fix my laptop, I could put €5 aside each week and live off €4.80 a day with the rest. After 5 weeks I could finally get my laptop back. Roll on May 10th. The problem is my laptop isn’t even fixed - it was broken beyond repair apparently - the €25 is to cover the cost of a full diagnosis and to extract the files from it. So if I needed to replace my laptop and saved up €5 a week to get a new one, I’d probably be sitting pretty with my new Toshiba in 2021.

Personally I think Direct Provision could possibly work if it was used for its intended purpose - as a short term stay for asylum seekers as they awaited their papers - or if asylum seekers had the right to work during their time there. But that isn't what’s happening. There are many people in Direct Provision who have been there for years on end with no end date in sight. It feels like some facets of the system are designed to sap you mentally and physically through inactivity and sheer boredom. All you can do is wait.

Waiting is not living. Some Asylum Seekers have waited over 10 years already. Roughly the same time someone convicted of being in possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life serves in an Irish prison. Which is ironic if you consider the fact many of these asylum seekers came here to escape those very people in possession of firearms with intent to endanger lives.

Yet they are the ones imprisoned.