This Hostel Life

This Hostel Life is a collection of short stories based on Okorie’s experience as an immigrant in Ireland. In particular, the book paints a desperate picture of the life of asylum seekers in direct provisioning hostels.

Whilst direct provisioning might seem like a system to ensure that, at least, everyone’s basic needs are taken care of, the reality is to the contrary. In reality direct provisioning is a degrading system of “enforced and institutionalised poverty”. It increases the refugee’s vulnerability as they are denied any choice. The authorities decide what you have, when and how.

In these short stories, Okorie unveils conscious (and sometimes unconscious) racism and xenophobia meted against people who are constantly being othered. On a day to day basis people’s feelings of not belonging are evoked in a country where they are seeking protection and acceptance but are constantly rejected. What touched me most were attempts to deligitimise people’s experiences and feelings as “sensitive” and “melodramatic”. In fact, at no point were these asylum seekers treated as people.

The book brought home the plight of asylum seekers and immigrants living in constant fear of deportation and random transfers from hostel to hostel. Okorie lived in direct provisioning for eight years, enduring bullying, intimidation, and abuse. This must have left her with permanent scars. But given her desperate situation, she “was grateful for a safe space to lay (her) head, a bed, a roof over (her) head, anonymity”.

For me it was interesting to get a glimpse of a country like Ireland which is generally off the radar screen. In a way, their attitude towards refugees and asylum seekers is no different from the rest of Europe.

The Hostel Life is a short, easy and worthwhile read. The Author’s Note in the beginning provides a useful context to the short stories. The last chapter by Liam Thorton – Ireland: Asylum Seekers and Refugees – provides the history and clarifies the political and legal position on direct provisioning.

I am not one for short stories. But although The Hostel Life is a book of short stories, they somewhat read like chapters of book. I recommend the book to those interested in refugee studies.