Aisha – A stark reminder of Ireland’s asylum seekers

Aisha’s alone, sad and thinking, when suddenly she snaps and begins to destroy the trailer that she and another refugee are staying in. When she’s finished, a window’s broken, curtains have been ripped down, and the place is a mess. Aisha’s typical pensive disposition is gone as it’s been overtaken by the frustration and anguish of being an asylum seeker in Ireland. 

Aisha is the namesake of the new film, “Aisha” which follows one woman’s plight of seeking international protection in the Emerald Isle. The hour and a half movie, which was released in November, is not out to win awards but rather to provide an uncompromising take on Ireland’s immigration system, specifically those navigating the asylum process. 

The story of Aisha is based on a combination of experiences rather than a single person, which the movie makes apparent in its opening seconds. “This film was researched with current and former international protection applicants to the Republic of Ireland and is inspired by real life experiences,” the opening message said. 

These “real life experiences” morph into the film’s lead, Aisha, who is played by Black Panther star, Letitia Wright. Wright masterfully plays a different type of warrior in this film, a young woman seeking international protection following a traumatic attack on her home in Nigeria. 

Aisha is a quiet and slightly rebellious woman who is attempting to receive asylum in Ireland and bring her beloved mother over. Her mother is a rare constant in her transient life in Ireland that sees her move between different accommodation centres across the country. The young woman’s isolation screams out to viewers in the many moments she’s pictured alone, deep in her thoughts, persevering through yet another day. 

These struggles are on top of her dealing with some officials who are unaccommodating and prefer complete compliance with minimal questions asked. But among these officials, Aisha meets Conor, a security guard with a soft spot for the Nigerian woman. 

Conor is portrayed by Josh O’Connor, who brings a kind and quiet spirit to the character that blends well with Wright’s often silent yet steeled portrayal of the young Nigerian woman. For Aisha, Conor is someone to ride the bus with, talk to and feel comfortable with in silence. 

Conor, an ex-convict, has his own trauma that he’s worked through as Aisha is still facing hers. The Irishman provides a source of friendship in a foreign place where little remains the same. 

At the heart of this film are the stakes, which loom large without much needing to be said as the consequences are very real. Aisha’s newfound friendship and safety hinge on her ability to stay in Ireland. She’s navigating a process that thousands have entered into this year. 

Aisha (left) and Conor (right) share a laugh while waiting for the bus. (Sky UK)
More than a movie

More than 12,000 people have entered Ireland this year seeking the status of international protection, according to the Department of Justice. Of these individuals, more than 900 are Nigerian. 

Ireland has granted more than 5,000 individuals asylum or a lesser, related status since 2019, including 324 Nigerians, the department told Babylon. An additional 4,498 people were denied the status between January 2019 and September of this year but given “Permission to Remain.”

This bare but beautiful movie illustrates how this process is not as clean as any statistics may suggest and how it can leave people in limbo for months as they wait to see if they will be granted the treasured international protection status. 

This messy waiting game is where viewers find Aisha as her interview with immigration officials looms. Will her claim be accepted or will she be forced to return home? It’s not handouts she’s after but rather safety, she explains. “I’m just here for safety,” she says. 

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Jacob Owens

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