Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin has been urged to intervene on behalf of a Pakistani man who has lived in direct provision for six years, and who campaigners say is now “a shadow of his former self”.
In a recent letter to the Minister she wrote: “I met Malik for the first time since before lockdown last night. I’ll be honest when I say I got a fright, he is much thinner now and a shadow of his former self, his bubbly personality is almost gone and his mood is very low.”
Ms Young, whose Dublin Dance Festival production about the conflict in Palestine, Floating on a Dead Sea, was staged at the Backstage Theatre in Longford at the weekend, said that when she first met the 35 year old he was volunteering with several community groups in Longford. He had gone on to perform in the Abbey Theatre and in venues throughout Ireland before the pandemic, but was not allowed to work or go to college.
“I’m not sure I would have survived six years in a direct-provision centre, not being allowed to work, go to college or do anything”, she told the Minister.
“I didn’t sleep much thinking about why I get to have my free life, be able to pursue my artistic practice and do what I want while my friend is essentially stripped of his dignity and rights as a human being”, she added.
Iqbal’s application for asylum was rejected and late last year he was refused leave to remain, which means he is facing deportation. He had told the authorities that his life was threatened in Pakistan because of his relationship with a non-Muslim woman and his refusal to enter into an arranged marriage with a Muslim woman.
Mona Considine, artistic director of the Backstage Theatre, said she believed Covid-19 had “taken its toll” on Iqbal, whom she met in 2017 when he and a number of other men living in direct provision in Longford danced in Young’s show Welcoming the Stranger.
“He is a decent, gentle and compassionate young man who has done so much to contribute to our community but his confidence is gone,” she said.
She too has written to the Minister saying she had been struck by the contrast in how the men in direct provision were treated and how her own son was treated when he emigrated to Canada.
“My son chose to leave his country, these men fled their country. My son was allowed to work in Canada and was not forced to live apart from the wider community.”
She said she often thought of the mothers of the young men living here in direct provision.
“As an Irish mother I felt ashamed that we were not looking after and caring for their sons,” she told the Minister.
Malik Iqbal said that while he had made many friends here, especially through his involvement in the arts, Covid restrictions had made living in the all-male direct-provision centre more difficult. “I have been invited to visit my friends at Christmas but I do not know if that will be allowed,” he said. “We stay mostly in our rooms and take turns to use the kitchen, four at a time. I must have been tested 15 times.”
He said he sleeps in a bunk bed and if any of his room mates needs to sleep “I go fo