Each 29th February, the clergy of our diocese meet for a four-yearly review. In his chairman’s remarks the bishops reflected on where people might have been four years ago. Struggling to remember anything of the day, other than going to visit a lady who was celebrating her 22nd birthday at the age of 88, I discovered I had been told a happy story that day and wrote about it here:
“Zimbabwe is amongst the worst countries on Earth.
In a generation Robert Mugabe has reduced his people to destitution. He has destroyed the economy; wiped out the value of savings; and left his people hungry. His corrupt regime have kept themselves in comfort while leaving the population in degrading poverty.
Stories from Zimbabwean exiles are heart rending and those seeking asylum come in the hope of just being able to live ordinary lives.
In a country where generation upon generation of people have gone into exile, becoming economic migrants in every corner of the world, the welcome for the few Zimbabweans who have reached here might have been warmer, but they fall foul of the blanket provisions introduced to stem the flow of incomers from Africa.
Yet amongst the frostiness of official bodies, the warmth of an Irish welcome can still be found.
A story was told this afternoon of a young Zimbabwean woman who had come here in fear with her daughter. Carefully stewarding the €19.10 (about £15, $29) a week she received along with her hostel accommodation, she sought to make a life for herself and her child. They found a church and a community and were beginning to believe in a future.
With a day’s notice, they were removed from the capital and resettled in a remote corner of Ireland where they knew no-one and where prospects of integration were remote.
Lobbying brought a change of heart from the officials and their return to Dublin was arranged. The woman and her daughter caught a bus, carrying with them their entire worldly possessions in five black polythene bin liners. They were advised by the driver that the black bags were in excess of what they were allowed to carry and there would be a charge of €22 a sack for the journey to Dublin.
An Irish church member awaited their arrival, ready to pay the baggage charges, for where would someone on €19.10 find €110? They arrived in Dublin, whereupon the bus inspector said that no-one would be paying anything for the sacks and then dispatched a bus to drive the mother and child to their hostel accommodation. He said he was in a good mood that day.
Many Irish people still have memories of exile, perhaps the driver had himself been on the boat to England in the 80s, or perhaps his parents had told him stories of what it was like to be far from home and family.
As the Celtic Tiger dies, Ireland of the Welcomes perhaps revives”.