A YOUNG Nigerian asylum seeker, based in West Clare, has challenged negative media portrayal of relations between rural communities and those seeking international protection in Ireland.
Innocent Iroaganachi is one of approximately 31 men being provided with emergency accommodation in Miltown Malbay and says his experience there has been “wonderful”, thanks to the welcome afforded by the local community.
Innocent told The Clare Champion that he decided to seek asylum here after he challenged homophobic attitudes of the government and some community leaders. His decision to speak out is something he believes lead to him being sacked from his job as a Dean of Students at a leading secondary school in Abia in the South East of Nigeria. He was already in Ireland pursuing an internship in the media when he learned that his employment had been terminated.
“There was a situation in at the school and I responded by using common sense and judgement,” he explains. “But the situation was blown out of proportion by others, and when I challenged that, there were repercussions for me.”
Since August, Innocent has been living at the Central Hostel, along with a group of single men from countries including Somalia, Georgia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Albania. He says the accommodation is a appreciated and relations with management are positive overall.
“The food is great, but if we want to cook for ourselves, we’ve been able to. If we need a product we can’t buy, the chef will help us out,” Innocent says.
The group are supportive of each other, sharing meals from their native lands and organising communal dinners, but it is the response of the Miltown community that has really blown Innocent away.
“It’s been amazing. We’ve been invited to get involved in everything from language classes to art and business,” he says.
Innocent admits that when he learned that Miltown Malbay was to be his destination, he was unsure about how the rural location would work out.
“I had to look it up on Google Maps,” he says. “To be honest, I was a bit disheartened, but it couldn’t have been a more welcoming place. My parents always told me to be content and to make the best of what I am given and things are working out really well here; so far, so good.”
Innocent, as a keen observer of media, has been motivated to speak out after a number of high-profile protests in rural communities including Oughterard and Achill.
“I have to say it has been completely different here,” he says. “It is something that is difficult to see when you have tensions and concerns in other rural places. There is a lot of negative portrayals in the media and I had to speak out and say that it is different here. The community [in Miltown] have even offered us clothing and allowed us to get involved in their car pooling scheme. That makes a big difference to us.”
Those being accommodated in Miltown while awaiting the processing of their asylum applications are also keen to give something back to the community, Innocent says.
“Once a month, we go out on a community clean-up, picking up refuse and especially plastics. That’s something that really benefits everyone and gives us an opportunity to give something back to the town.”
Having just moved to Ireland in recent months, Innocent is at the early stages of his asylum application. His first interview with Department of Justice officials is due to take place soon and he admits he has concerns about having to relocate.
“The goodness of the community has been wonderful and lovely,” he says. “Miltown Malbay has made me feel at home, I’m not sure if that would be the case elsewhere.”