Guest post from Luke-Peter Silke

For me being pro-life is about caring for the most vulnerable among us. It’s about loving and cherishing all human beings equally, regardless of age, size, skin colour, race, sexual orientation or religious belief. 

One thing I cherish in this democracy is the fact that we don’t have such a right vs left divide here as they do in other countries. In my group of friends we have the most diverse opinions, we could be left-leaning on some issues, right-leaning on others – none of us conform to a particular category, each of us have unique, individual views and opinions. To be honest I think that’s why we’re friends – we love debate and we hate group-think. Conversation and debate on the topic of immigration is to be welcomed, but I implore people who feel passionate about the issue, on either side of the debate, to get their facts straight before commenting. 

In recent months we’ve seen a lot of sloppy commentary from some ignorant politicians and I’ve seen what I feel is intentional misinformation promulgated by members of the far right regarding refugees and migrants in this country. One popular statement which wound its way into local conversations is: ‘The vast majority of refugees in this country are economic migrants’. This statement is untrue and frankly ridiculous. Factually it doesn’t stand up. 

Refugees are refugees. Economic migrants are economic migrants. If someone applies for asylum in Ireland they are placed in direct provision while the authorities try to determine whether the applicant qualifies for refugee status. If they do not qualify then they are sent back to where they came from. If they do qualify they are granted asylum and become refugees. Ideally the authorities would make this decision quickly, but they don’t. So a lot of those seeking asylum in Ireland can spend up to seven years in direct provision (according to the Irish Refugee Council). Once a person is recognised, by the State, as a refugee and granted refugee status then they are absolutely not an ‘economic migrant’, they are definitely a genuine refugee and have been deemed to fit the definition of ‘refugee’. To suggest that refugees are economic migrants is to suggest that black is white. The statement is simply wrong/untrue. 

‘Spongers’ and ‘freeloaders’ are other terms we frequently hear thrown around in conversations on this topic, usually by politicians in advance of an election. The idea that those in direct provision are here to sponge off our system is both offensive and ill-informed. Such a suggestion stirs up local hatred on the part of ordinary taxpayers, oftentimes against a cohort of people who are genuinely fleeing war or famine. If someone wanted to ‘sponge’ off the Irish system, it would make little economic sense for them to enter the Irish direct provision system where someone gets a weekly allowance of less than €20.

A recent report by the Irish Refugee Council focused on the experiences of children in direct provision. One third of all those living in Irish direct provision centres are children. The report was damning. Education and child development were infringed upon. Lack of proper diet and nutrition is resulting in malnutrition. Mental health issues are arising as long periods in confined spaces leads to depression. Children are exposed to violent and sexual behaviour. The heating is inadequate and centres are over-crowded. I’m no legal expert, but I can tell you that many of the conditions faced by people residing in the Irish direct provision system are in breach of EU law.  

I would hope that before politicians and other commentators make broad sweeping statements in future, they would take time to first read this heart-wrenching report and to open a dictionary to seek the definitions of the words they are using. Anyone who argues that refugees are sponging off the system, or that refugees are economic migrants, may not necessarily be racist, but they are, at the very least, uneducated on this topic, and are most certainly damaging this country’s reputation for hospitality and inflicting pain on the most vulnerable of people who have come to us begging for protection. 

To be pro-life is to believe in protecting, defending and loving ALL human beings from conception until natural death. It is to treat people with dignity, to show compassion at all times and to seek to make society a more welcoming place for people who are in danger of having their lives ended, for people who find themselves in moments of crisis or despair. 

As a pro-life student activist I am in favour of gun control, I am anti-war, I am in favour of protecting our world, our climate and environment, I’m against abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty, I am in favour of more widely accessible supports for men and women who find themselves in crisis situations, I’m in favour of social housing, I’m against direct provision, I believe we should love every human being by virtue of their humanity, and I believe we should show kindness towards and offer a welcome to refugees and immigrants in our beautiful country. I’m not for a moment suggesting that all anti-abortion activists must conform to these views, I just think that my stances on controversial issues regarding life and people, make logical and coherent sense. 

The vast majority of people I’ve encountered in the pro-life movement are pro-life, pro-human rights, pro-compassion and pro-love. Traditionally, if you look at the history books, at times of great evil, at times when human rights were ignored – when human beings were not treated with dignity, where innocent people were killed – it was almost always student groups who took to the streets with facts, with information and with a message of love that would eventually bring about the restoration of peace and justice. I’m thinking about people like Sophie Scholl who was executed by guillotine in 1943 having been found guilty of distributing anti-war and anti-Nazi leaflets in the University of Munich. I’m thinking about SDS – Students for a Democratic Society – who formed in Washington in the 1960s and were instrumental in drawing public attention to the barbarity of the Vietnam War. I’m thinking of the 1820s, and the Anti-Slavery Society formed by the students of Colby College (then Waterville College). 

Where human rights are under threat it has always been students who fight back, and in all of the examples I’ve just referenced the student groups had to battle with college authorities who looked disapprovingly on their work. The friction between college authorities and student activists will sound very familiar to anyone involved with a pro-life student group in an Irish university in 2020. I firmly believe that I will live to see the fruits of our work, that when I am an old man the unborn child will be recognised as undeniably human and deserving of human rights, that I will live to see an Ireland where women with crisis pregnancies do not feel abandoned by the State, where the immigrant does not fear walking down the street at night, where I as an old man do not feel pressurised by laws to end my own life, where every human being feels loved and valued. I pray and hope that I live to see the day when there is no war, where all the refugees can go home to the lands that gave them birth.   

(While working on this article for the Minimise Project I attempted to interview some residents of ‘Great Western House’ Direct Provision Centre near Eyre Square in Galway city, however, I was informed by management that I was forbidden from interviewing any of the residents without first seeking permission from the Department of Justice. To date no such permission has been granted.)

Luke-Peter Silke, 21, is an author and journalist from Co. Galway. He is currently studying for a BA in Creative Writing in NUIG and is a regular contributor to public discourse on radio and in print media. He has been an active pro-life campaigner for many years.