'I'd ask the Minister to free us from these chains'

Photo: Azwidohwi David Nesengani, a second year student in Athlone IT, and his wife Fortunate.

An Athlone IT student facing deportation is pleading with the Minister for Justice to allow him to stay in Ireland and progress into the third year of his social care course in September.

Azwidohwi David Nesengani, and his wife Fortunate, who live in the direct provision centre in Lissywollen were due to present themselves to the Garda National Immigration Bureau on April 1, in relation to the deportation order served on them in February, however, in light of the COVID-19 crisis that was postponed until May 20, and now it has been pushed out further until September 2.

Speaking to the Westmeath Independent recently, David, who has been living in Ireland over four years, appealed to the authorities to let him continue his studies on foot of a recent successful work placement in The Gateway Project in St Mary's Hall.

“I have two years done (BA - Applied Social Studies in Social Care) and I want to see myself in class for third year. That's my first priority. I miss my friends and lecturers.

“I'd ask the Minister to release us from these chains (waiting for a decision) and give us an answer so we can plan ahead for our life,” said David, who has been spending a lot of time tending to the community garden in Lissywollen over the last few months in a bid to keep his spirits up amidst much uncertainty.

The couple stressed they want to live, contribute and work in Athlone, a community that they love and has given them so much.

“I wish they would send word and treat us like humans and just tell us. It really is killing us emotionally,” his wife Fortunate added of the stressful ordeal of just waiting, in limbo, wondering what will happen to them.

A high-profile campaign was mounted prior to the lockdown by Athlone IT and other supporters appealing to then Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, to revoke the order on compassionate grounds.

The couple's case was recently highlighted in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil TD, Robert Troy, who asked the Minister to lift the deportation order hanging over them.

In a written reply to his question, the department acknowledged representations had been made on behalf of the local couple in a bid to revoke the order, however, they could not say when a decision will be made.

“This request will be considered as soon as possible. It is not possible to provide a definitive time frame within which a particular application will be decided, however, the persons concerned can be assured that there will be no avoidable delay in having their case brought to finality,” it said.

“A decision will be made to either 'affirm' or 'revoke' the existing Deportation Orders. This decision will be communicated in writing. In the meantime, the Deportation Orders remain valid and in place,” the department outlined.

A petition in Athlone IT organised by the students' union earlier this year, both online and in person, asking the Minister to let the couple stay on, garnered over 574 signatures in the college, and another 1,632 online.

Fortunate had to flee Zimbabwe as a child to avoid recruitment to the Zimbabwe Liberation Army, according to the petition.

When she married David she faced xenophobia from the community experiencing beatings, and her house being burned by a mob. David has also experienced xenophobic attacks from the community with his house burned in South Africa.

This week, Fortunate described the waiting game as like being on “death row,” something which is taking its toll on her physical and emotional health amid the possibility of being forced to return to somewhere they don't feel safe.

“I'm praying that they will let us stay. It's very difficult and painful. We want to live here and contribute,” Fortunate, who volunteers in Vincent's charity shop, and has completed a Level 6 Community Development course among others since she came to Ireland.

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