'We live here. We work here. We belong here': Groundbreaking research unveiled for undocumented in Ireland

The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) and the Justice for the Undocumented (JFU) recently launched new research carried out with over 1,000 undocumented migrants living in Ireland. It depicts a striking reality for those living here and trying to make a life in the country they have called home for years.

This article is part of a committed partnership between IMAGE and The Irish Network Against Racism (INAR). Each month IMAGE will work with INAR to shine a light on a person or project that is celebrating and promoting diversity and equality in Irish life.


Launched virtually just a few days ago, with over 100 attending, Neil Bruton, JFU Campaign Development Worker explained the background to the research. "The MRCI was set up over 20 years ago. And since its inception, and it's been working with undocumented people through our drop-in centre, and, and we found quite early on, that one of the main issues that people were facing here was the fact that they didn't have a secure status and didn't have a legal status.

And that if we solved that problem, and then many of the other issues they were facing, would be solved, too.

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And so around 10 years ago, the JFU campaign was born, a campaign that is led by undocumented people and who are fighting for the rights and regularisation themselves. Over the 10 years of the work of JFU has changed quite a bit. And that's thanks to the various times the undocumented, activists, and campaigners, amazing people who are directly affected by issues that we're talking about have stepped forward and taken action," he said.

Life-changing government commitment

He explained that regularisation is coming to be a mainstream point of view with political and public support, which has gained significant momentum. "This is all culminated so that after 10 years of campaigning, we now have a clear commitment in the programme for government to introduce a regularisation for undocumented people within 18 months, which, once this comes to fruition, will be truly life-changing for thousands of other undocumented people around the country   And it's within that context, that we launched this unique piece of research, giving an insight into the lives the work and also the difficulties that undocumented people face here in Ireland."

The research 

The survey showed that over 75% of undocumented people have been living in Ireland for five years or more and that 93% are working to support themselves.

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Unsurprisingly, they also found that nearly half of all undocumented people are being exploited, working over 40 hours per week, with 25% not even receiving the minimum wage. 70% of people that are undocumented in Ireland are 24 are between is between 24 and 44. This shows that a lot of people that are undocumented aren't going to be leaving, they have their future here in Ireland. 93% of people that are undocumented are working and many are on the frontline, working in vital sectors from healthcare to childminding and catering and retail.

“Sometimes I am not paid the full amount, other times I am not paid at all. If I had my status I could stand up to this. I could get a better job and give my children a better future. We could all go to visit my parents and have a family reunion”, said Zeinab from JFU.

"I came here for better opportunities" 

Irene from the Philippines, also a member of JFU, was another who shared her story, the difficulties the undocumented face and what regularisation would mean. "I make art and for over 12 years I'm working as a full-time childminder and care marketing manager.

I had to work in a different job to sustain myself and to support my children and back home. I came to Ireland to join my sister and work for a better life. This is just the same reason many Irish people left the country to find a better opportunity. I got involved in the campaign because I looking for a solution, I wanted to feel safe and secure here."

"We have been campaigning for over 10 years, we are a community made up of over 1000 members from over 50 nationalities, ages, experiences, backgrounds. And this campaign is led by undocumented people. We have taken action many times over the last 10 years. And now finally, we're close to achieving our goal for regularisation in the community"

She explained that the pandemic has made members even more vulnerable. "As a community, we're currently facing many different challenges heightened as a result of Covid-19 This has impacted our members badly including cutting hours of work, them having to risk their health by working through the lockdown but for fewer hours, through illness with no extra pay – all made worse by the emotional and physical stress, fear and anxiety that comes with being undocumented.

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"We have little access to any support. Those are just some of the problems that we are facing in our daily lives. .It is very important to the people in the community to stay connected, make them feel safe, less alone," she said.

These are just two of the stories; there are thousands more out there and this unique research with a commitment from The Minister for Justice to introduce a scheme to regularise undocumented people living in Ireland is the next urgent and vital step needed.

Main photograph: Migrant Rights Centre Ireland Facebook

For more information, see mrci.ie

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