Planes,Trains, (buses) and Automobiles!!

I was going to a Day Conference in Dublin on Wednesday 19th. Sometime on Monday, it crossed my mind that I might use the train.  It’s not a mode of transport I avail of very often and when I checked the venue for the conference, the advantages of rail travel seemed unquestionable as it was just about ten minutes walk from Connolly Station.  I went on line, booked the ticket and was happy with my decision.

Getting up early on Tuesday, I was at the Station in Boyle just after 6am, parked the car (paid and displayed!!) and walked to the platform where I collected my ticket from the machine.  There were three or four others there and a few more came along.  I noticed a handwritten note on the Station Door.  It said there would be a bus transfer to Carrick-on-Shannon and when I mentioned this to some of the other travellers I was told the transfer would take us to Longford! Ouch!

The track was flooded somewhere around Carrick-on-Shannon so train could not travel.  The bus arrived on time – a lovely bus (in all fairness) and we got on board.  I sat beside an older lady from Sligo who asked me “is that a smartphone?” Feeling less smart than the phone, I said it was and she asked if I could get a number for hospital where she had an appointment as she was going to be late.  We had a pleasant conversation and realised we knew a few people in common.

Arriving in Longford, the expectation was that there would be a train, revved up and ready for off but … expectations can be overly ambitious!!  About forty minutes later a train pulled out of the station in one direction, turned and came to the platform.  We boarded.

I bought coffee and a sandwich and had more or less finished them when an announcement was made that due to the lateness of the train and by way of apology, free teas and coffee would be made available to all passengers.  €7.10 down, the “trolley service” was a memory!!  If only I’d waited!!!

The journey homewards was similar.  We stopped in Longford and though, no announcement was made, we were to know that we should get off the Sligo Train there (well that’s what you do when you’re expecting to go all the way to Sligo!!) and get on a bus for Carrick-on-Shannon where we’d be met by the Sligo Train.  Again, we did this and the journey continued and, for me, concluded in Boyle about forty minutes behind time.

The train was lovely, I met some nice people along the way and I’ve no major regrets.  It was not as smooth as I had imagined or hoped but could have been worse.

I had two “complaints” I suppose – firstly I thought some reference should have been made to this situation on Irish Rail’s website since it was clear, in advance, there was going to be a problem.  Secondly, I thought passengers could have been slightly better informed about what was happening, including an announcement that the the journey to Sligo would be terminating in Longford, continued by bus to Carrick and …  I think people would have appreciated to be told what was happening.  That said, it wasn’t a major problem.  I think the conference I was at helped me to realise that …..

The conference was on Emigration and Immigration and had the title “Journeying Together: Challenges Facing the Migrant Today”  In the opening segment of the conference we had three speakers: 

–          Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Vice President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference;

–          Mr Stefan Kessler, Policy and Advocacy Officer for the Jesuit Refugee Service, Europe;

–          Ms Cecilia Taylor-Camara, Senior Policy Adviser, Office for Migration Policy of the Catholic Church in England & Wales.

Each spoke movingly of the journey made by and with the migrant.  Archbishop Martin spoke (during a well- thought out and delivered address) of Pope Francis’ first official visit outside of Rome:

It will not have escaped anyone that Pope Francis after his election decided to make his first journey outside Rome to the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is in many ways a symbol of how the aspirations of those who seek a better chance for themselves and for their children have been exploited. Hundreds have died on their journey across the Mediterranean, many of them women and children. People have been forced to spend their entire savings and those of their families to exploitative ship owners, if ship is the appropriate term. Great credit is due to the people of that small island who have done much to provide an initial welcome to immigrants and whose own tourist based economy has genuinely suffered.

For the last speaker, in particular, that was a difficult and painful journey.  Equally Mr Kessler gave a chilling example of the experience of one such migrant coming to seek help in our country.  Perhaps an extract might be helpful:

Hadiyah is from Iraq. One day armed men invaded her village and kidnapped her two sons, aged 16 and 18, along with the other young men in the region. A week later the boys were brought back and killed in front of their parents. Hadiyah’s outspoken condemnation of this atrocity led to numerous death threats, forcing her husband and two daughters to another village and Hadiyah out of Iraq with their 12-year-old son. 

They arrived to Ireland in the hope of finding protection. Instead Hadiyah was arrested and imprisoned for not having the right documents. Her son was taken by social workers and put in the care of the social service.“Why are they doing this to me, to us?” Hadiyah cried to a JRS worker. 

“I was told my son and I would be safe, that my husband and two daughters would come later. But instead I am in prison. I do not know where my son is being kept. My other two sons are in a grave in Iraq. I do not know where my husband and daughters are. I just want to die.”

Such cases are reported not only from Ireland but from many other European Union Member States as well. You could get the impression that there is a race for stinginess among Member States, a contest on who is treating protection-seekers worst.

Ms Taylor-Camera spoke from first hand experience:

My journey as a migrant started in Africa during one of the world’s most brutal civil wars that was characterised by amputations, in a country historically referred to as the ‘Whiteman’s Grave’ and was  known to be the home of freed slaves from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. 

On 25 May 1997, the civil war in Sierra Leone, West Africa (my home country), reached its pinnacle when Freetown, the capital city, fell into the hands of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).   Freetown was under siege and its citizens were helpless.  My family was housebound under the barrage of AK47 gun shots and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).  We lived near the military ordinance, a prime target of the RUF.  Bullets were fired indiscriminately from the military ordinance directly opposite our house.  Two stray bullets landed in our living room as our house was within the area of military operation. I had just removed the cushion from the sofa when one of the bullets missed my head by a hair’s breath.  It was a near death experience for me. 

I reached out for my Bible, looked over the hills from behind the curtains and prayed the words of Psalm 121:1 with deep conviction: 

“I will lift mine eyes unto the hills from whence comes my help,

My help comes from the Lord which made heaven and earth”. 

A week later the British Government assessed the situation as ‘very serious’ and advised its nationals to leave the country.  The British High Commission in Freetown organised the evacuation of non-essential staff, their dependents and other British nationals who wanted to leave.  My husband advised that I leave the country and take the children to safety while we could.  The family was forced to be separated and I embarked on a perilous journey by land, sea and air with my two children, then aged two and four years old. 

Initially I was denied access to board the vessel to Conakry, the capital of neighbouring Guinea, because I had a Sierra Leonean passport.  My children had EU passports so they could travel – but unaccompanied by their Sierra Leonean mother as the evacuation was for British nationals only. I was however assured that the children would be looked after on the journey I looked at my children, squeezed their palms into mine as if for the last time, and thought I could not be separated from them. 

I pleaded with the British commanding officer not to be separated from my children who were already traumatised by the events of the previous week.  Fortunately God touched his heart and he allowed me to travel with my children. The three of us were evacuated by a French Naval vessel to Conakry, and then to the UK on a special flight to Stansted airport.  I arrived at Stanstead with the children on 2 June 1997. 

My husband arrived after a week and we were reunited as a family. However, that week long separation seemed like the longest week in my life.  My husband brought with him just one holdall after living and working in Sierra Leone for fifteen years. He was unable to retrieve the only suitcase we had packed for the emergency (containing our valuables and important documents) as the rebels had invaded and taken over the area where we hid the suitcase.  

My family never expected to be away from home (Sierra Leone) for more than a few months – hoping the situation would calm down and normalise.  This year marks seventeen years since that lucky escape and I am pleased to be here to share our story, in particular our faith experiences and the role the Church has played in the life of my family. 

Like most people fleeing war, we were instantly divorced from our possessions.  We also had no money.  Everything we had earned we had to leave behind.  As victims of war, for the first time in our lives we began to experience life as refugees. Stripped of all material acquisitions and documentation, we acknowledged our new status and identity.  My husband and our children were British, I was a foreigner, but we all had the same experience of being strangers. 

As believers, we did what one does in such situations – we sought to focus on our faith as the certainty of life faded on the horizon.  We had total dependence on God for His provision and I had no misgivings that God was in control of our circumstances.  After all, God had spared my life, gave me the opportunity to flee impending danger with my children despite the obstacles that were put in my way.  I knew He would not fail me. 

For two years we moved from temporary accommodation to temporary accommodation. It was quite unsettling. Finally, in 1999, we were placed in permanent accommodation in North London. 

The Conference attempted to recognise and encourage the Church’s role in ministering to, journeying with and caring for the migrant.  We were asked to see people’s journeys as part of our own and to realise that often people bring to us more than they seek and should be for us, more than we can imagine.  

Ms Taylor brought her address to a close with an amusing (but thought provoking observation)

Our Christian faith is shaped by the story of migration. In the Old Testament we read of the Exodus when “the Lord brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt” (Exod 12:51).  In the New Testament we have the account of the Holy Family seeking sanctuary in Egypt.  The question is whether we as a church will act as the Innkeeper and turn the stranger away or relegate them to the stable, or as the Three Kings did, welcoming the stranger and offer them gifts?  I am positive that Saint Joseph did not have a work permit, nor was the donkey in quarantine. Even the scripture is silent on whether the Blessed Virgin had the baby Jesus’ Birth Certificate.  

(For full texts of the three speeches, please click here – courtesy of Irish Bishops’ Conference Website)

The journey from Boyle to Dublin, via car, bus and train wasn’t too bad – all things considered!

 

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