Sweet Afton

by Jaki McCarrick
Directed by Tracy Cameron Francis

Aug 7 – Sep 5, 2021

An Online Audio Play

A brother and sister flee Afghanistan to become asylum seekers in Ireland, but instead of refuge they are met with Direct Provision — Ireland’s inhumane system of endless incarceration. Banned from working or even cooking their own meals, Kazim and Leila struggle with isolation and the limbo of uncertainty. With the help of their Irish friend Andrea, they fight to end DP for good.

Show sponsors: Harold and Carole Goldstein
Season sponsor: Ronni Lacroute

Launch Party
Available

Events:

About Sweet Afton and Direct Provision by Sara Martín-Ruiz.

Ireland, the country of the hundred thousand welcomes… or is it? Since the year 2000, thousands of people of all ages and nationalities who arrived in Ireland in search of safety have been kept in open prison centres throughout the country, with their human and political rights breached on a daily basis. Since 2004, children born and raised in Ireland are being deported to countries they have never been in, while a person who has never been in Ireland, but whose grandparent was an Irish citizen, has a right to obtain Irish citizenship. Why does this happen? Jaki McCarrick’s play, Sweet Afton, creatively confronts the traditional image of the Irish Republic as being a welcoming place characterised by emigration with the uncomfortable fact that institutional racism has permeated Irish society since the dawn of the 21st century, as the results of the 2004 Citizenship Referendum and the Direct Provision system illustrate.

The system of Direct Provision and Dispersal, established in late 1999 and still ongoing, is the for-profit scheme through which the Irish state manages the lives of international protection applicants, like Kazim and Leila Karimi in McCarrick’s play. Following this system, asylum seekers are lodged on a full-board basis in Direct Provision Centres throughout the country, often former hostels or holiday camps, and usually isolated from mainstream society. Asylum seekers are factually banned from working or entering third level education; whole families have to share a single room, and single people are forced to share a room with total strangers; they are made to live in state-sponsored poverty with a meagre weekly allowance (€38.80 per adult and €29.80 per child), not being able to choose where to live, or even when or what to eat.

In fact, that is how the three characters in Sweet Afton come to know each other: Andrea works in the canteen of the Direct Provision centre where siblings Kazim and Leila live while their asylum claims are processed. “But who knows how long this will take?”, claims Leila at one point. Indeed, time is one of the main problems of the institutionalised living that is Direct Provision. Although intended as a short-term solution, not to last for longer than 6 months, it is not unusual for the months to turn into years. Keeping vulnerable people who have fled unspeakable horrors before arriving in Ireland just to keep them in legal limbo for years on end usually results in re-traumatisation. Research shows that asylum seekers are five times more likely to experience mental health and psychiatric problems, such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.

In her play, McCarrick highlights the paradox on which Irish citizenship is based on nowadays — after five years in the Direct Provision system, Kazim and Leila obtain Irish passports not because of their asylum claims, but because the law recognises their right to Irish citizenship as grandchildren of an Irish grandfather whom they had never met. In its exploration of the personal consequences of state policies which fail to offer safety to those who need it the most, the situation presented in Sweet Afton finds parallelisms across time and space: in the Magdalen Laundries of the Irish past, or the ICE units in the United States nowadays. Sweet Afton is a reminder that, behind impersonal figures we see in the media, and living among us, there are still too many voices whose stories we systematically prefer to ignore. After 21 years, and thanks to the tireless effort of current and former asylum seekers, Direct Provision is no longer an unknown reality for most people in Ireland. May this play raise international awareness about the way our states treat those who have fled their countries in search of a safe place to call home.

Sara Martín-Ruiz is an independent scholar, and a PhD candidate at the University of the Balearic Islands, Spain. Her research is widely informed and shaped by intersectional feminism and antiracism. She has researched and published on contemporary Irish literature written by asylum-seeking and refugee female authors.

VIDEO

Justine Nakase Interview with Jaki McCarrick

Play Video

Sweet Afton Promo Trailer

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Jacki McCarrick Interview Trailer

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CAST

Lauren Bloom Hanover
ANDREA
Shahjehan Khan
KAZIM
Fatima Wardak
LEILA

CREATIVE TEAM AND CREW

Tracy Cameron Francis
DIRECTOR
Jaki McCarrick
PLAYWRIGHT
Adam Liberman
AUDIO
Shahjehan Khan
ORIGINAL MUSIC