What refugees? I don’t see any

A critical look at Ireland’s response to the refugee crisis

COMMENT  Ireland to date has only managed to meet 7.8% of its promised refugee resettlement quota. The Irish Refugee Protection Programmes (IRPP) was established in September 2015 in response to the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.

The Department of Justice and Equality has described the IRPP as a multi-faceted approach towards the international protection of refugees and has laid out the measures to be taken under this programme including the protection of up to 4,000 persons, the creation of a new Taskforce to deal with the logistical aspects of the support programme and the establishment of a network of Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres.

However, a year on, the sluggish pace with which the IRPP have been working has ensured that few of the 4,000 have been welcomed on Irish shores.

Due to the absence of a harmonised European approach towards migration policy, each country maintains the right to develop an individual migration strategy that must meet their European and international humanitarian obligations.

As a result, the efficacy of many European migration strategies in the face of the worsening refugee crisis has faced constant criticism, and has been questioned by both international and Irish media.

Conversely, very little emphasis has been placed on the lacklustre response of the Irish Government towards the refugee crisis and also on the operational success of the IRPP. Has the Irish Refugee Protection Programme produced tangible results in terms of ensuring that Ireland meet its humanitarian obligations towards international refugees?  Furthermore, is Ireland, as a nation that has faced mass migration throughout the centuries, ignoring its moral duties towards those seeking international protection?

IRPP targets not being met

As mentioned, in September 2015, the Government pledged to welcome up to 4,000 refugees through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme as part of the European response to the crisis. While this figure appears underwhelming it was a considerable increase from the 600 people that Ireland had previously agreed to.

The figure of 4,000 includes approximately 2,600 persons to be taken in from migration hotspots in Italy and Greece and some 520 from Lebanon and Jordan. However, since the creation of the IRPP only 311 refugees have arrived in Ireland.

In the year since the young Alan Kurdi’s death made global headlines, only one unaccompanied child has been welcomed into Ireland. Similarly, the Irish Refugee Council have requested that the government honour its commitment with regards to the relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, as not one person has been relocated from Italy and only 38 from Greece.

Consequently, groups of NGOs have implored that the Government speed up the relocation process as the current pace is failing to meet Irish humanitarian obligations.

Ireland’s insufficient response

Concurrently, the uninspired response of the Irish government towards the refugee crisis deserves mentioning.

President Michael D. Higgins stated that European countries failing to respond to their humanitarian obligations in the face of the current refugee crisis, should draw from the experience of the Irish during the Great Famine, in a speech at the unveiling of the Glasnevin Famine Memorial this September.

President Higgins referred to the marginalisation faced by Irish citizens who reached foreign shores during the mid-19th century and, as such, drew parallels with the negative public opinion towards refugees that has arisen throughout Europe as of late.

In this way, the Irish reaction to the refugee crisis, having welcomed very few of the millions that have fled to Europe, appears to lack a certain recognition of our ancestors who were refugees in situations not dissimilar to those of current refugees.

Furthermore, Ireland as a nation has experienced mass migration for centuries due to the consequences of poverty and cyclical depression. Many Irish families have a long history of emigration and in fact some estimates put the Irish diaspora – those claiming Irish ancestry – at over 70 million.  

Should the Irish government not find further means of increasing the operational efficiency of the IRPP in order to speed up the process by which refugees are welcomed into Ireland?

Integration Programme

The Irish integration strategy proves proficient as it is based on an intercultural approach with rights and responsibilities for both the receiving society and migrants. A cross-departmental IRPP Taskforce is led by the Department of Justice.

The Taskforce organises emergency accommodation and orientation services in the first instance, and facilitates the longer term integration need of those arriving in Ireland.

Following the arrival of refugees in Ireland they are placed under the Irish refugee resettlement programme that has been in operation since 2000. This comprehensive programme is chaired by the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration (OPMI). The OPMI also coordinate the selection and the preparation of receiving communities throughout Ireland.

An 8-10 week language training and orientation programme is provided by the Education and Training Board in cooperation with OPMI as a fundamental element of the integration process. Furthermore, crèche facilities are provided for adults attending the programme and education provisions are made for children.

Nonetheless, the difficulties faced by refugees during the integration process in Ireland have been highlighted on a number of occasions by members of the Dáil. Deputies have repeatedly underlined the need for further support mechanisms for those transitioning from direct provision in emergency accommodation to life in the Irish community.

Moreover, the Irish Refugee Council argued that more needs to be done to ensure that those offered a home in Ireland are given to opportunity to fully integrate into their allocated communities.

As Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald stated, “these refugees are human beings, not simply numbers”. Reaching the target set by the Irish Refugee Protection Programme of welcoming 4,000 refugees to Irish shores by 2017 remains a remote possibility due to the languid pace with which refugees are being processed and welcomed into Ireland.

How will future generations perceive the relative passivity of the Irish towards the refugee crisis?

More importantly, will those 4,000 refugees that reach Ireland be able to integrate wholly and become Irish citizens or will they face social isolation? It is, after all, a ‘crisis’ that requires speedy and effective solutions to provide fundamental humanitarian aid and protection.