Go to Hell!

May 16th, 2005 | By | Category: International

There are fears here in Dublin that the Government intends another round of deportations of people who have been refused asylum in the country, possibly later this month.

Politicians who are insulated from the realities of their own country by a mass of perks and privileges, presume to pass judgment on the realities of distant countries they have, for the most part, never visited.

Have they ever been to hell?

I remember a visit to hell, I use the word advisedly – it was a Sunday afternoon between Christmas and New Year at the end of 1990 in the Philippine capital of Manila.

Hell in Manila was the city rubbish dump, a place called Smoky Mountain, a place that mercifully no longer exists. It was filthy, the stench was overwhelming; fires burned all of the time. It was the sort of picture of hell that Jesus would have conjured up when warning people about injustice and hypocrisy. When Jesus used a word to describe ‘hell’, he used the word ‘Gehenna’; Gehenna was the city rubbish dump outside of Jerusalem, it was a place where fires burned constantly.

Smoky Mountain was a picture of hell, yet at the time there were thousands of people who were so poor, they were living on Smoky Mountain. Numbers may have been as high as 20,000 – no-one really knew. There was no social security net for these people to fall through, because there was no social security. Many people had come to Manila from poor rural areas to seek work and a better life; few people could have envisaged coming to such a place.

Ten years later I went back to Manila, things had improved beyond recognition, yet there were still families living under motorway bridges. I asked our host, a Jesuit bishop, why people would come to live in such circumstances. ‘Because in the city there is work and in the city there are services that do not exist in rural areas; they come here in hope’

The Philippines is a model of prosperity compared to sub-Saharan Africa, from where most of our asylum seekers come.

Have our leaders any conception whatsoever about the lives from which people have tried to escape, getting together every cent they have in hope of life in a better world?

Have they even spent so much as a few hours in the shanty towns that surround African cities? Have they ever experienced for a moment the numbing despair of life in absolute poverty?

People came here in hope, and Ireland, who for decades sent her children around the world in the search of a better life, sends them home.

It’s not just in the Bible that people get sent to hell.

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