CHRISTMAS is a time of year when people are reminded of those less fortunate and the need to reach out to them and help them as much as possible. With a chronic homelessness crisis in Ireland, some would argue that we should look after our own people first, but it is just as important that we also look after refugees fleeing war and persecution in their own countries.
Ireland has committed to take in 4,000 refugees, designated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and once they arrive here, they are automatically conferred with the same rights as Irish citizens. About two-thirds of the quota of refugees we have agreed to accept so far has arrived here and gone through emergency reception and orientation centres before being dispersed into various communities.
Now, the Minister of State with special responsibility for immigration and integration, David Stanton, has urged towns and villages across the country to consider getting involved in the Community Sponsorship Ireland (CSI) initiative, which would see families brought directly into communities who would adopt them and look after them for their first two years in Ireland.
Enda O’Neill, the head of office of UNHCR Ireland, pointed out that, with less than 0.5% of the world’s refugees resettled in 2018, complementary pathways such as community sponsorship are a vital lifeline for them and that CSI has had a positive impact on the lives of refugees who have made Ireland home.
Mr Stanton’s native town of Midleton is part of a successful CSI pilot programme, which involves towns in Cork, Waterford and Meath. Kinsale has also become involved in this worthy initiative, having formed a community sponsorship group, Road to Kinsale, to help settle a Syrian refugee family in the town.
Rather than enter an emergency reception and orientation centre, a displaced Syrian family that has been interviewed, Garda-vetted and medically-screened by the Irish authorities, will move to Kinsale and will be integrated into the local community.
By settling and integrating without delay into their new town, according to Road to Kinsale, the new residents have a better opportunity for a far happier, healthier and more prosperous new life in Ireland. The ambition is that, within 24 months, the family will be part of Kinsale’s vibrant community and be in employment.
According to Minister of State Stanton, ‘This is a practical, tangible, positive, workable way of helping families. Any community in Ireland can contact the department and we will work with that community.’
However, he did admit: ‘I am disappointed that there are other communities that think there is something to be afraid of. There isn’t. The evidence is there.’
Extolling the virtues of the CSI scheme, Amnesty International Ireland’s Colm O’Gorman said many people here care deeply about the plight of families fleeing persecution and conflict in Syria but that, often, they feel helpless. This need not be the case if communities take on families and help reduce the dependence of heretofore on reception and orientation centres that can never match the warmth of the welcome of a committed community.