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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Young migrants make a case against racism (Ireland)

AN exhibition of suitcases detailing the poignant -- and at times disturbing -- experiences of young migrant schoolchildren went on display last night as part of a travelling anti-racism campaign.

'Suitcase Stories' is the brainchild of UNICEF director Melanie Verwoerd, who was inspired after seeing a similar exhibition in her native South Africa.

The exhibit features old suitcases filled with children's artwork, photographs and other personal items to symbolise the child's life as a migrant and their former home. The outer lid of the case represents their life here.

Many of the 14 children taking part came to Ireland with their parents as refugees or were born here. Others made their home in Ireland as immigrants.

But the touching depictions of the struggles in their lives both here and in their homelands have a recurring theme of homesickness and of being an outsider.

Andrej Pacher (16), who moved to Rathfarmham, Co Dublin, from his home in Bratislava, Slovakia, more than four years ago, filled his suitcase with imaginary letters he wrote to his grandmother, detailing the ups and downs of being a young migrant in Ireland.

Sadly, racial bullying by some of his primary school classmates was his introduction to Ireland.

"Dear granny," he wrote. "I miss you a lot. I won an award in the Young Scientist competition. Other boys in my class are starting to behave nicer to me but they make me feel different."

The promising science student said he was finally being accepted by some of his peers but admits it has been a struggle.

"I do feel homesick," he told the Irish Independent last night. "I feel I fit in much more now but every now and then I get the feeling I don't fit in."

The suitcase of Yasmin Dirir (13), from Ballyfermot, who was the first Irish-born Somali, tells a different story.

While she has never gone to her parents' homeland, her suitcase is filled with disturbing images of the war-torn African country.

But it also proudly displays the Somali flag and a painting she did of the mountains, giraffes and lions she hopes to see when she visits there next year. While she too is no stranger to racism, she has learnt to take it in her stride and is proud of her "Irish accent".

The project organised by UNICEF and Dublin City Council will remain on display at the council's Civic Offices in Wood Quay until October 8 before moving to Dublin's main libraries.

Irish Independant