I don’t get it. I don’t see it. Refugees? Asylum Seekers? Migrants? I don’t get it. I don’t see it. I just see people. I just see men and women and children. I just see people, people just like me, just like you. I can see their eyes, their wide eyes and their hair and their arms and their legs. I can see their faces. And I just see people. I just see men and women and children.
I was in a car with some people the other day, some Irish people of a certain generation. One of them was my father, a Kerryman whose mother raised him in Cork alone, despite a priest’s advice to have him and his brothers taken into the caring embrace of the church. After serving in the Irish navy he looked around the Ireland of the 1950s and decided the only chance of making a life for himself and a family was by getting on a boat and going across the Irish Sea. When he got on the boat was he an Economic Refugee? An Asylum Seeker? A Migrant? No, I don’t see it. I just see a young man trying to get a better life. I just see a person. Next to him in the car was my mother, who left Ireland at the tender age of nineteen, in the company of the Kerryman raised in Cork. She went across the sea, across the cold, dark water in the boat to have a life and raise children and give those children a life. She was frightened she always told me. Frightened to leave, frightened to go across the sea, frightened to be in a strange place. Was she a Migrant woman? A Refugee? An Asylum Seeker? I don’t see it. I just see a frightened young woman. I just see a person. Next to her in the car was her sister who has spent most of her life in the Irish county she was born in. She did, though, once upon a time get on that boat across the dark sea, across the dark water, to get married and have her first child before coming back across the sea. And when she was going backwards and forwards across the dark sea, across that unforgiving cold water, with her baby in her arms, was she a Migrant? A Refugee? An Asylum Seeker with a Migrant baby or a Refugee baby? I don’t see that. I don’t get it. I just see a young woman and a baby. I just see a person. I just see a person holding a child. Also in the car was my mother’s brother. Every summer he comes home from New York to see his beloved Ireland, his beloved family and his beloved GAA. Back when he was a much younger man he went over the broad, cold Atlantic because his beloved Ireland offered the eldest of a family of thirteen nothing in terms of a future life. So when he went over the cold ocean, the deep unforgiving waters of the Atlantic, was he a Migrant? Was he a Refugee or an Asylum Seeker? I don’t see that. I don’t get it. I just see a young man hoping for a better life. I just see a person.
None of those boats went down. None of those people, the young men or the young women, the baby, fell into the water. None of them died sodden deaths on their way to a better life. They all got across the cold water safely. And when they got there they didn’t meet with barbed wire or vicious border guards and they didn’t wait in the open air while a continent debated whether they were Migrants or Refugees or Asylum Seekers. They didn’t have it easy, for sure, but look at them, look at them, look at the thousands of them coming out of Ireland year after year. What do you see? Do you see yourself? Do you see your mother or your father? Do you see an Aunt or an Uncle? Do you see a cousin? Do you see Asylum Seekers? Do you see Refugees? Do you see Migrants? Or do you just see people? Do you just see people like you and like me? Do you just see men and women and children? Because I don’t get it, if you don’t. I don’t see what you’re seeing, if you don’t. Because I just see people.