“Communities should play an important role in integration”

The Irish Refugee Council was established 21 years ago as one of the first organisations fighting for refugees’ rights in Ireland. Since then, it has become a reference to people that seek to achieve refugee status in the country, offering information about asylum applications, help through legal advisors and supporting people’s basic needs like accommodation or mental support. At the moment, they’re in the middle of a campaign against the direct provision system, which they describe as “institutionalised living”. Caroline Reid is a member and Communications Officer of the IRC, we’ve spoken with her about these issues and the ongoing refugee crisis.

What’s the direct provision system?

The system was established 15 years ago as response to a crisis in Europe, which caused many people to displace. It’s basically a network of different types of accommodation people are sent to while being processed as refugees. The initial idea was that nobody would have to wait longer than 6 months, but the reality is very different. There are people who have been waiting for 4 years or even longer, and during this time they have no right to work and very limited opportunities for training. Such accommodation, which in many occasions doesn’t fit suitable conditions, can be very remote, and the system is very controlling. This uncertain environment is demoralising for these people, who can develop extreme mental and health issues.  

Campaign poster from the IRC

What are the necessary steps for a successful integration?

Communities should play an important role in any integration plan. Nowadays, despite the fantastic response from Irish people to the refugee crisis, the government is still not saying anything about its plans, there’s a lot of secrecy about that. There are very important short term measures to take regarding mental support (because these are people who have gone through horrible experiences) language lessons or healthcare, but any long term response has to involve the communities.

What can people do to help the refugees that are coming to Ireland?

Definitely maintaining the Irish welcoming spirit is very important. Recently we organized a storytelling meeting with Syrian people, because they, like us, have a deep story-telling culture, and it was a great way to bring people together.

Another important thing is to educate yourself, there’s a lot of misinformation and many false stories about this issue. Also, there are many grassroots organisations gathering funds, both at home and abroad, which people can donate to.

Is the EU doing enough?

The EU countries have taken steps, but at different paces. I see a lot of talking about targeting smugglers, and that’s not targeting the problem. This is the largest displacement we’ve seen since WWII, and blocking the main ways with fences will not stop it, it will just make it less safe, which will mean more dead people. Most policies are directed at increasing security through military means, but any policy should have saving lives as a priority.

Now they’re talking about opening camps in Africa and improving proactive solutions, when we could be receiving more people. When you look at nearby countries like Turkey, which has two million refugees, or Lebanon, which, with a population close to Ireland, has accommodated one million, it seems clear that we’re not taking our fair share. For example, Ireland has commited to receive 4000 people over two years, but it had already committed to that number before the crisis got this bad.

Is there enough funding for initiatives like this?

The amount of funding we receive is getting smaller, something that’s also happening for a lot of other community organisations despite the serious refugee crisis we’re going through. We have a variety of supporters and partnerships, but we receive very small amounts of funding from the state. Lately we got a small grant from the Department of Justice, but our main funding comes from philanthropic organisations. There are also EU funds available for specific things.

To contact or to make an appointment with the Drop-In Centre

Phone (01) 764 5854 | Email info@irishrefugeecouncil.ie

or drop into the Irish Refugee Council at 37 Dame Street, Dublin 2

(directly opposite the Central Bank)


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