Case Study

UNHCR: The long wait for refugee status in Ireland does not curb Congolese businesswoman’s positive attitude

By Svenja Von Reuss
April 25, 2018
UNHCR: The long wait for refugee status in Ireland does not curb Congolese businesswoman’s positive attitude
It took six years for Pelagie Siete-Mimauzet to get a decision on her refugee protection application. A successful businesswoman in Ukraine, where she lived for 21 years, she now works with Accenture in Dublin © Eduardo Scandaroli

Pelagie Siete-Mimauzet waited six years for a decision on her refugee protection application. A successful businesswoman with fluent Russian and French, she quickly secured work when she received refugee status

For 21 years, Pelagie Siete-Mimauzet lived happily in Ukraine, where she moved as a 19-year-old from Congo Brazaville.

“I had a master’s degree and owned my own business. I worked hard and paid my taxes. Then the war started in 2011.”

Pelagie fled Donetsk in eastern Ukraine and came to Ireland with her 14 year-old son, where she waited six years for a decision on her asylum application.

“I couldn’t go and look for a job because I wasn’t allowed to work while staying in Direct Provision. The waiting was terrible.”

Other challenges followed. She developed breast cancer while in direct provision, which she successfully overcame.

“The treatment was provided for me and I’m grateful for that, but that alone is not enough. Because it’s tough. You can’t do anything. It’s like dying inside. Just imagine, someone has been working for his whole life, and then he comes here and is forced to sit down.

But you have to be positive. If you think you are nothing and you are nobody, you won’t overcome the challenges. That’s why you have to be ready for everything you face.”

A fluent Russian and French speaker, Pelagie began learning English. She took up a volunteering position in the St Vincent de Paul to improve her speaking skills and completed other courses to keep herself busy, including a psychology course in her local Education and Training Board.

In 2016 she was granted refugee status. Looking for a job was difficult at first because of the long gap in her CV. With the support of Business in the Community, Pelagie joined the EPIC Programme, which works with immigrants and refugees to help them integrate into Irish society.

“Explaining that gap was not easy. But Business in the Community really helped me to build my cv and prepare for interview.”

Pelagie secured a job with Accenture, where she uses her language skills as a Content Review Associate.

“I’m very happy with what I’m doing. The more you are working, the more you are learning.”

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has long called for processing times to be sped-up in Ireland; new applicants today are likely to wait up to 19 months before even being interviewed in relation to their application. Provisional statistics provided to UNHCR for 2017 indicate that the situation is getting worse, with over 1000 more cases on hand at the end of the year; this is despite new laws introduced 12 months previous with the aim of shortening processing times to 6 months.

According to the UNHCR’s own research , long stays in direct provision accommodation is leading to dependency and disempowerment among many people seeking protection, hampering their integration prospects. Long waiting periods are costing the state an unnecessary amount of money too. A review group established by the government and chaired by a former High Court judge concluded in 2015 that the length of time asylum-seekers spend in the system was the key issue that needed to be addressed.

“We shouldn’t limit asylum-seekers in direct provision” says Pelagie.

“Give them the opportunities to learn and work. Because they are going to live in this country for a while. Even if they leave eventually, they are still spending some time here and they should be able to provide for themselves and their family and the economy of the country.”