From top: A card artist and former asylum seeker Vukasin Nedeljkovic received while he was living in Ireland’s direct provision system, following the death of his mother in Belgrade; the word ‘Lonely’ which Vukasin wrote using blood from his finger in his room at the Old Convent Centre in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, in 2008; a basketball hoop at the centre; and the view from his room, also in 2008
Vukasin Nedeljkovic is a 40-year-old Serbian artist based in Dublin.
As a teenager, Vukasin protested against the policies of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević, who died in 2006 in his prison cell while on trial for genocide in The Hague.
In 2007, Vukasin visited Ireland and – after he had criticised Serbia’s then information minister Alexsandar Vucic who is now the Prime Minister of Serbia – he was advised not to return home.
He sought refugee protection in Ireland and was eventually granted ‘leave to remain’.
Vukasin lived within the direct provision system for three years, living in centres in Dublin; New Ross, Co Wexford; Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo; and Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.
His mother died back home in Belgrade, while he was in the Direct Provision system.
Vukasin is now married, has a family and is doing a PhD at the Dublin Institute of Technology.
He started Asylum Archive, about which, he explains:
“Asylum Archive originally started as a coping mechanism while I was in the process of seeking an asylum in Ireland; it is directly concerned with the reality and trauma of life for asylum seekers. Asylum Archive’s objective is to collaborate with asylum seekers, artists, academics, civil society activists, amongst others, with a view to create an interactive documentary cross-platform online resource, which critically foregrounding accounts of exile, displacement, trauma and memory.”
Further to this, he draws from his time in direct provision and writes:
We were brought into a mini bus to one of the direct provision reception centres. The journey seemed long; we could see from the window the streets and people of Dublin.
The long motorway took us to one of the suburbs on the south side of the city. We didn’t talk on the bus; we looked at each other with agitation and worry.
We collect our weekly payments of 19.10 euros. That is our weekly allowance. We are prohibited from work or study.
The medical screening, for transmittable diseases, took place on the top floor of the centre in a room that looked on to the garden. We were tested for HIV and Hepatitis amongst others.
I am sitting under the huge pine tree. The tree is almost covering the outdoor part of the centre. The branches of the tree are moving gently with the wind. I can see some dead branches.
The centre is located on the top of the hill. The sun is coming through the branches of a pine tree. It is a spring in the centre.
The next morning a woman, followed by two security officers, arrives in Kilmacud Centre. She goes through her papers and calls out some reference numbers; each of us has a reference number that starts with number 69.
People start to congregate near the reception forming certain groups. We hear that we will be transferred. There is no explanation.
We take our belongings and enter the bus. We leave our friends behind, without even saying goodbye. We don’t know where we are going.
We look through the window. It’s a long journey. We see the rivers, the grass fields and the blue sky of Irish landscape.
‘Rhythm of the wheels, stronger than hunger or tiredness; until, at a certain moment, the train would stop and I would feel the warm air and the smell of hay and I would get out into the sun; then I would lie down on the ground to kiss the earth, as you read in books, with my face in the grass. And a woman would pass, and she would ask me “Who are you?” in Italian, and I would tell her my story in Italian, and she would understand, and she would give me food and shelter. She would not believe the things I tell her, and I would show her the number on my arm, and then she would believe.’ (If This Is A Man, Primo Levi, 1947: 47).
I see the main building of the new centre. The CCTV camera is attached to the main building; it looks towards the gate.
I receive a postcard covered with the butterflies; the yellow butterflies with the white dots, the purple butterflies with the white dots, the green butterflies with the green dots and the blue butterflies.
On the card it says:
‘Dear Vukie, I was so sorry to hear about your mother. I can’t imagine how you must be feeling. Thinking of you and sending you hugs. Take care in there. Hope to see you soon’.
I look at the postcard. I hold the postcard. The tears roll over my cheeks on to the postcard.
My window is divided in half. There are yellow marks at the both sides of the window.
The mark on the left side of the window is bigger and wider then the mark on the right side of the window. There are fields in a distance. They seem too far away. I can’t see the greenness of the fields.
It rains almost every day. The fields are becoming greener every minute. I want to see the fields with my tired, sleepless eyes.
I am afraid to leave the room 24.
I am not able to smell the fields. It is just round a corner.
There are walls and barriers on the way.
I bite my nails; the drops of blood roll over my finger. I look at my hand; in my room, on the piece of paper, I write down ‘lost’ using the same blood.
On a different piece of paper I also write ‘lonely’.
The sun is coming through the dirt of my window. I see the children playing outside.
I smell the chicken nuggets and chips.
It is dinner time soon.