An Eye-Witness Account Of Demo And What Led To It.
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On March 29th, 2006, residents (inmates) of Kinsale Road refugee hostel in Cork, took to the streets to demand that they be treated with dignity and respect. A phone interview with Madu Innocent Chuckwunyere (eye-witness), broadcast live on Near FM's Majority World on thurs April 6th. On march 29th, 2006, residents (inmates) of Kinsale refugee hostel too to demand that they be treated with dignity and respect. Listen here (mp3 12min 128kbps) Below is a transcript of the phone interview with Madu, an eye-witness and himself a resident.
RS: …and on the line here today we’re speaking with Madu Chukwunyere, also known as Madu Innocent Chukwunyere; and Madu is speaking to us from a refugee hostelin Kinsale, Co. Cork. I suppose, Madu, we’ll begin with March 30th, that’s last Thursday: what actually happened?
Madu: Well, it was actually on the 29th, that was a Wednesday, and residents, eh, (well I call it a kind of riot), rebelled against what for a long time they’ve been calling harassement and intimidation here.
RS: Can you tell us more about the harassement and intimidation?
Madu: By Wednesday the 29th thre’s been a lot of times that residents have met together; and looked at the way they are kept here; the way the management behaves towards them; the kind of food they eat; and the policies which the management carries out at will; and by the 29th…there was a lot of frustration and people decided to do something so that there can be a change.
RS: Are there any exmples, for instance, what was the straw that broke the camel’s back?
Madu: Well, you see, a manager, once you come in here he tells you as a welcome things like; he didn’t come to bring you from your country, and whatever you see here, you just have to take; and he tells you that he has his rules and once you don’t follow his personal rules, you fall into trouble. He stands close to the chef always during eating times and even a blind man who picks up more than two loaves of bread…he takes one out of his hands: and, a lot of things: he has no respect for residents – that one is very serious – and everybody that comes in contact with him tell you, “Look, this man treats me like an animal”. And so, all these things have been making people frustrated and they had to vent their anger.
RS: Tell me about the quality of the food.
Madu: First off, the food is very terrible. For a long time now – personally I’ve visited that place just once in a while, because I know that what I would get there is not what I’ve been used to for over 34 years of my life. …What really strikes me is that you have a majority of Africans and Asians here, but yet, the chefs we have are from South America and Eastern Europe. Had they been fair, they would have had at least one of the cooks where the majority of residents come from. There are people who come in here and have been told and have applied for these jobs and they don’t get it, just, for reasons I don’t know. You knokw, you have people from Africa mostly, and Asia here. Why not give them chefs from that part of the world; they are all over the place. If you just advertise, you’d ? probably employ them; but you impose on them, people from Latin America and Eastern Europe, which of course, are the kind of people who are not here. So the food is really…what I don’t enjoy at all: and the report which we were reading, in which the Minister for Justice or whoever tried to say they have a 42-day plan here and that the food is good and things…and this is not the truth at all.
RS: So, there’s an arbitrary management in the way things are run generally – not much thought given to people’s dignity or to humanity, self respect. Now, you’ve been there since August with your wife and child (your one-year old son). How is it possible for you to keep your dignity there. What do you do during the day, for instance?
Madu: Well, honestly, one of the things that this process does to you is to take away your dignity, because you came from a place where probably you were working and doing other things, and then suddenly you are stuck somewhere: you can’t do anything. You can’t even…You just keep thinking about the process at all points in time, and so, your dignity is eroded seriously; and so there is nothing to talk about dignity.
RS: Are there cramped conditions? Do you have nothing to do during the day? Like, when you walk around the town you’ve nothing to spend…you’ve no money to spend on anything.
Madu: Well, that’s true; and you’re paid €19.10c per week. Even if you came in here with lots of cash from your country – with time it goes down and you don’t have any way out. We’re just trying to manage; just trying to see how we can eat things that we are used to and just keep body and soul together, but it’s really terrible.
RS: Now, you yourself, you’re actually qualified aren’t you – chemical engineer, is it?
Madu: Industrial chemist.
RS: Industrial chemist, sorry. So, it’s very difficult for you to keep up to speed with what’s going on in your own sphere, in your own interests.
Madu: It is really difficult. I’ve been to the library a couple of times. I was there earlier on today. I do that almost all the time. I’ve been to the university college here in Cork (UCC) and tried to see what I can do to keep myself busy; but honestly, until things are sorted out – your process is sorted out – you cannot really find anything that is tangiable or related that you can do to keep your mind at rest. Because, once this process is not dealt with, at all times you think about it, you don’t know the outcome, you’re just taking it.
As well as that, as was pointed out recently, a prison is better off than here because, at least tat the prison, you get to know when you come out; but here, you don’t know when exactly you leave and you just keep staying.
RS: and do you have to report in, sign in every night?
Madu: Yes, we sign here every day: it’s compulsory: you have to; but one of the problems; but one of the problems the residents have which they revolted against is the signing; because you find people who have been here for a long time and they’ve never signed; and nothing happened to them. You just walk up to the manager and make a complaint, and next day, you get a warning letter. So, procedures like that are not being dealt with very well…So, the signing was one of the problems that the residents had and they said “Look, if we have to sign, then at least, let the procedure be followed. If we sign, then we shouldn’t be given letters that we didn’t sign; because the manager was using those records at will. So, people that he wanted to victimise or intimidate, he’d just give them a letter sayin’ that they’d not been signing. Meanwhile, these people have been signing. In fact, there’s a gentleman who has been signing twice a day, and he got a letter telling him to ?vacate [or?] mark it, just because he called the manager the day he left and said, “Look, the food was not very good”.
RS: Right, that’s the prison officer syndrome, but what exactly happened on the 29th of March then, to activate everything? What sort of disturbances were happening down there?
Madu: Well, it was really terrible, because I for one did not expect that. For a long time I have not seen that kind of action. The residents were so annoyed that they had to cut off the way to the airport. So, some traffic hiccups were caused; and the gardaí had to be called in to bring people out of the road. They were just standing there with kids, and they pushed the buggies and whatever; just closing off the road. Some of us were of the opinion that, look, it was better in another form, but these people have been frustrated over a long time and so…People [?go back from] decades and from different countries, different psychology, different way of thinking. They’ve been trying to let people hear their different concerns and worries; but nobody was willing to ever listen to them, that’s what they felt; and so they felt the only way to get attention was to do something like that. And so, the gardaí had to come in and it was really terrible.
RS: Why, what happened when the gardaí came?
Madu: When the gardaí came, I think they over-reacted. I don’t know how to put it, but to me, I thought that probably they could have been trained to be more restrained than we civilians. And so eh, the way they did the whole thing: there was a baby that was even pushed over, and two people were arrested. Although, really, later on when we spoke with the superintendant who was in charge, eh, a good man, I must confess. And so, I think they handled it with all superior force and so…
RS: Were they violent?
Madu: No, no, no, this was very peaceful by the residents. They just had planned…
RS: Were the gardaí violent though?
Madu: Yes they were, honestly they were. They didn’t behave the [?best]. If they couldn’t be backed up properly, they could’ve been trained to use more restrained than us, but they were so violent that they just pushed people out. I saw baby was pushed out of the chair. The baby had to be ?covered on the road by another resident.
You know, I was away from the scene because I was talking to one of the reporters in your studio, so I was just watching the whole thing from an angle and it was really what…I didn’t expect that at all.
RS: Did anyone get any photographs of the incident? (or anything like that)
Madu: Yes, it has been on the papers. In the local paper here: Ecu has had several pictures and even some residents had video shots of what happened. And, recently they were played, and we looked at it and of course, you would have seen in that video how the gardaí handled the whole thing and t’was not very good.
The guards honestly, had to seize one other camera, and I think the owner has not gotten it up till now: I’m yet to find out. But these things are in evidence: there are video-clips that were taken on that day.
RS: And how did it resolve itself?…I mean, there was an aftermath.
Madu: Yes, there’s been a seies of meetings since then, and even this week we’ve had a number of them. We’re having another one this evening. There’s been two TDs coming in here. There has been a gentleman from the same party [as] the Justice Minister – Mr. Minnihan, I think so, if I can remember, and then there was another gentleman from the Green Party. And…there has been a couple of other meetings every day here to try to make things quite…back to normal. But, I think it has shown and it has underscored that, look, there were problems before. …If there had been these meetings and we were being heard regularly and other things so that there wouldn’t have been this kind of riot, eh, or rebellion that people did here.
RS: Are you receiving any support from the local community?
Madu: We are, actually we are. there are people that are really concerned and really sympathetic to what is happening hereBecause, what we’re talking about is not just eh rubbish: it’s what is on the ground and if one has an opportunity to be here and to have a look at the food we eat for example, or the way the management treats residents, you will know that these people are really pushed to the wall and this reaction is expected. You know, to every reaction there is an equal reaction…I think a lot of things have been going wrong here and this is now being addressed with all these meetings.
RS: You’re taking your case to the High Court, and you don’t really know when that’s gonna be up, do ya?
Madu: No, I don’t really know when that’ll be up. I just hope soon, because this place is not the kind of place I expected to live in. I just hope so. I’ll be seein’ my solicitor tomorrow to ask him more about the situation.
RS: How are your wife and son coping?
Madu: Yes, they’re doing fine. What can they do? We just stay together all the time and then we talk about our plight and whatever, and…it continues every day. We’ve just a kind of cycle (you know) every day: the same story every day doing the same things…stayin’ in bed. I’ve developed back-pain because I think I’ve been over-sleeping. Recently we tried to see if we can (with the co-operation of the local community) get something like a gym and let the residents to come in to do some excersises. Recently, again, we organised a pool-tournament here (I and a friend), and I think there was…people enjoyed it. And so these are the kinds of things we just do to keep body and soul together. Otherwise, it’s really tough out here.
RS: Well Madu, I can only hope that things improve and that you get outa there soon…everybody who’s in there I suppose…
Madu: Yes, of course. Everybody wants to keep the peace and I hope it remains peaceful when we live here.
Listen to the Near FM piece here (mp3 12min 128kbps)