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All in a day’s work

30 November, 1999

Nusha Yonkova is the information officer at the Immigration Council of Ireland (ICI). Here she share her busy day with us.

Morning: I grab a coffee and sit at my desk to check the emails that have arrived since yesterday. The email service is busier than ever; I wish sometimes that it were not so. Many service users opt for this means of communication due to the fact that it is efficient and cheap in comparison to the phone service. From a service provider’s perspective, it allows me to prioritize the more urgent queries and to do a bit of research on others.

Busy busy
With my emails dealt with, I can now unblock the phone service. From the moment I arrived, I have been aware of the blinking light on the telephone panels. I retrieve messages, listening to some of them over and over again; not all our clients are fluent in English. As I work on this and fill out the phone diary with To Be Returned, the door bell begins to ring – impatiently.

By this time, people are aware that the opening hours are 10 am to 1 pm, and they do not want to miss their chance to be heard. We receive and accommodate them in our humble premises on St. Andrew Street. The consultations begin.

I invite visitors to one of the two consultation rooms, introduce myself and concentrate on the questions. If I’m lucky, the person simply needs information, and is neither upset nor angry.

What will the next query be like? We encounter so many situations in this line of work.

It could be a Chinese student, who has achieved all possible college degrees and cannot leave the country, now that the studies are over, without even a chance to try the labour market.

I could be faced with a distraught migrant worker who has been denied the privilege to invite his family members and show them the country in which he has been living and working for the last three-to-five years.

I might meet the hopeful parents of an Irish child, working hard to convince the Government that now that they are financially independent, they could invite their other child from abroad. 

Occasionally, I could meet an  Irishman who cannot believe that he has to wait sixteen months to have his ‘non-national’ wife join him here in Ireland.

Respect and empathy
We treat our visitors with respect. They are fighters. Despite this, we cannot offer good news automatically; we don’t want to damage their optimism but it’s not our place to give false hope.

Sometimes we meet people who have passed the initial stages of application. They come to us angry and frustrated, and we take time calming them down. Part of the job is empathy. It’s not in the job description but it cannot be avoided. After all, we do work in a support service.

As one client walks out, I approach the waiting area for the next one. By now the cosy reception room is full. It has run out of chairs. The two consultation rooms cannot cope with the demand.

A colleague quietly informs me that a few other ICI staff members are consulting people in improvised locations around the building. I’m grateful to them for never refusing a hand, for being always ready to forsake their own errands. They catch up with their work later.

We meet, listen, talk, type letters, print out application forms, make phone calls on behalf of non-English speakers. Suddenly, I become aware of my tiredness; I have approached my limits. The last client is patiently waiting in the nearly empty reception. I’ll see her before I break for lunch. Is it a lunch break? Or is it a ‘clear my head’ break? I think it’s a bit of both!  

After lunch, I sit at my desk, the handset clenched between my shoulder and head, my fingers typing on the keyboard. Why shouldn’t I reply to straightforward emails while I’m giving general information on the phone? Over time, it’s something I’ve had to master. I can only show off my multitasking skills for a little while however, as the next phonecall is complicated and the caller is anxious.

Ups and downs
The whole system operates on the principle of discretion. Accordingly, information officers such as I operate in a discretionary system. You are not of much help, you think. It could be discouraging for both my caller and I pray for the next call to be different because I need to prove my competence. The computer screen in front of me solves my low self-esteem problem. An email pops up, thanking me for my ‘great help and support’.

At the end of the day, it is not a bad thing to be an information officer at the ICI. Where else would one get these friendly responses? I cherish them as they come from people whose names I cannot even pronounce and whose origins I cannot guess.

lf you like diversity, ICI is the place for you. Your work place is a meeting point for religions and cultures. The ultimate feeling from your work is that you help people. What more could you wish for?

This article first appeared in The Messenger (April 2007), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.