The Dublin-based Anti-Racism Network (ARN) co-founded by Luke Bukha Kasuanga is taking on new challenges.
The ARN was launched in August 2010, but recently, in the light of yet another asylum death (in direct provision) and an increase in brutal deportations, it has expanded its remit, launching a sister organisation Anti Deportation Ireland. A new journal featuring debate, political analysis, creative writing and artwork, is also planned.
Roots of ARN
When ARN was set up, there were fears that racist attacks on the Roma in Northern Ireland would spread to the Republic. It was all too evident to the activists and supporters who joined one of the founders Luke Bukha Kasuanga, from Zimbabwe, that there was a vacuum in migrant-led organising. On the one hand, individuals and groups had been subsumed or co-opted into the Irish NGO landscape, where campaigning could be skewed by strategic plans, funders’ agendas and bureaucracy. At the same time, government policy seemed to be intent on abandoning mechanisms that could further anti-racism. Luke Bukha Kasuanga identified the fact that the ability to respond swiftly to either individual or sectoral crises could be hampered by organisational structures and over professionalisation of campaigning. Something more was needed.
The ARN, though based in Dublin covers the Republic of Ireland as a whole and has about twenty-five core members, with a large pool of activists, supporters and members to draw on. Activists come from Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Kenya, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Spain, Italy, Greece, Serbia, Brazil, Colombia, Botswana, Ireland, Sweden and the USA. Many members are from Nigeria. Its work is rooted in the principle of grassroots organising, collective decision-making and migrant-led initiatives, informed by the people who experience state and institutional racism first-hand. Bukha Kasuanga maintains that while there is certainly a place for the monitoring of racist attacks taken up by a number of NGOs (ARN refers cases to the Immigrant Council of Ireland and is working with the European Network Against Racism) there is little or no provision within funded Irish NGOs for the immediate reaction that is required, particularly in relation to incidents that take place out of office hours. This is where ARN comes in. Bukha Kasunaga also believes that the distrust of police or authority figures which stems from the experience that asylum seekers brought with them from their own countries, means people are wary or reluctant to report incidents to the Irish police (Gardai) as well as feeling they will not be taken seriously.
The Immigrant Council’s Taking Racism Seriously report (2011) referred to disconcerting levels of racism in Irish society and also referenced anecdotal evidence of increases in racism since 2010 and the onset of severe recession in Ireland. Consequently the Immigrant Council of Ireland set up a pilot monitoring and reporting service, in the wake of the cessation of other official monitoring, due to cuts in anti-racism funding and the closure of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism in 2008.
It was as far back as 2001 that Amnesty International’s Irish section launched an ambitious anti-racism campaign with a list of eight demands including repeal of the ineffectual Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. But by March 2011, the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) was pointing out that the review of the Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 had stalled. In its submission to CERD in February 2011, the NGO Alliance Against Racism Shadow report on Ireland referred to what it has called ‘an attack on the human rights infrastructure of the State’.
Operating in a situation where officialdom’s anti-racism mechanisms are almost defunct, to date ARN has concentrated on a number of key campaigns-the upcoming changes proposed in the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill (2010) and, particularly within that, racial profiling, anti deportation, and the state’s system of direct provision for asylum seekers.
Asylum seekers mobilise
On 22 June 2011, after visits and discussions with asylum seekers housed in direct provision hostels in Galway and Tralee, a demonstration outside the Dail (Irish Parliament) was organised and a letter, collectively written by people in direct provision, was handed in outlining conditions and demands as well as a plea for an end to direct provision. Bukha Kasuanga points out that the powerful effect of the self-organising by those in direct provision, despite risks and possible retribution, undermined the myth that asylum seekers were too afraid to publicly object to their dire circumstances. However, says Bukha Kasuanga, ‘So many people thought the protest would solve so much and change things but then there was no coverage in the mainstream media at all despite the fact that the protest with predominantly African men women and children took place at lunchtime, stopped the traffic outside the Irish Parliament and was policed by groups of Gardai. The only place it was featured was on YouTube.’
In September 2012, after the death in a direct provision hostel of 62-year-old Emmanuel Landa, ARN called for a full investigation into the circumstances of his death and a review of direct provision, as its press statement put it, ‘the suitability of the callous, uncaring and for-profit direct provision system as an apparatus of “support” for vulnerable people especially people battling to maintain their mental health.’ In October 2012 Anti Deportation Ireland (ADI) was launched, reflecting the core members’ concern at the rate of deportations in Ireland, the clandestine manner in which most deportations are being carried out and the violence meted out to deportees. Asylum seekers and their supporters had been particularly shocked by the mass deportation which took place on World Refugee Day in June of this year. ‘Despite the talking and smiling with black people in newspapers earlier on that day, in the dark they gave a go ahead to brutal deportation. Those deported that day included women and children who were picked up for deportation in Carrick-on-Suir, Cork and Portlaoise.’ ADI distinguishes itself from other organisations which campaign against deportations, on the basis that deportation is inhumane and should be stopped, full stop.There are also concerns about the fate of those who are deported from Ireland and a need to monitor the human rights abuses that can occur when activists or migrants are returned to their countries of origin.
ARN also has plans for a number of new initiatives including itsfirst ARN public journal which will take the theme, ‘Ireland, What Kind of Society Do We Want to Live In? ARN intends that the broad kind of submission will both resuscitate debate on immigration, deportation, diversity, citizenship, and asylum seekers and provide a platform for diverse voices on these issues to be heard. The journal will cover current events, short stories, personal experiences of living in Ireland, poetry, comments about social or political issues in Ireland, essays, photography, paintings and drawings.