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Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Niall Carson Toys and handmade cards from local school children in a welcome centre at an undisclosed location providing accommodation for the first group of Syrian refugees in 2015.
VOICES
Opinion The poor state of public services in Ireland is not the fault of refugees
Fellipe Lopes is a filmmaker and activist who works with the Immigrant Council of Ireland – he says we must work together to help all refugees.

EUROPE IS FACING one of the biggest migratory crises ever recorded. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, over 12 million Ukrainians have left their homes, fleeing to countries across Europe.

More than 50,000 of these refugees have arrived here in Ireland. The initial response to Ukrainian refugees arriving here was powerful to witness – communities across the country coming together to fundraise, as well as many people welcoming Ukrainians into their villages, towns and homes.

The Government’s response was swift, as it moved to open the country’s doors to the Ukrainian refugees – providing them with temporary protection status. This allows Ukrainian refugees to live and work in Ireland, initially for up to one year, as well as having access to social welfare, accommodation and other State supports including healthcare and education.

Two-tier?

While the Immigrant Council is fully supportive of the Government’s actions welcoming Ukrainians to Ireland, the reality of the situation is that we are now left with a two-tier asylum system for refugees.

Refugees coming from Ukraine have direct access to the right to work and study, facilitating their social integration within the community and personal empowerment, both of which are imperative to making a new start. However, non-Ukrainian refugees do not have access to the same benefits, and this is extremely problematic.

In addition to this, the Government’s recent decision to suspend visa-free travel for refugees from 20 ‘safe’ countries will have a huge impact not just on those seeking to travel to Ireland, but refugees in Ireland who need to travel abroad. This decision sets a concerning precedent which effectively establishes two different systems.

Recently, I was with a refugee from Syria, who asked me what the difference is between people from Ukraine and other refugees. She told me that she is happy to see the support for people fleeing the war in Ukraine, but she thinks that everyone should be treated equally. With a lot of sadness in her eyes, she shared the challenges of living in a hotel, and the long and challenging journey she underwent to get to Ireland.

Once here, she described how various policies make the adaptation process very complicated. She has relatives in Germany and has no idea when she will be able to see them. Being able to visit family and friends and have them visit Ireland is part of normal life, but not for her, not because she is an asylum seeker in Ireland, but because she is an asylum seeker from Syria.

Misguided protests

If we compare the welcome of Ukrainian refugees to the treatment of asylum seekers during the recent protests in East Wall and Fermoy, there can be no question about the difference in treatment.

Irish communities have a right to feel frustrated about the lack of local infrastructure but their frustrations should be directed towards Government which is failing our communities.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland supports policies of inclusion and wholeheartedly backs the Government’s actions to welcome refugees from Ukraine. However, extending these policies equally to all refugees is fundamental for a more equal society. While we are in crisis mode, the ability to strategise, plan and invest in the resolution of these intertwined and complex issues is lacking.

Working together

As part of its response to the emergence of the Ukrainian crisis, the Immigrant Council of Ireland organised a civil society emergency response forum. This forum, comprising 68 organisations throughout the state offering support to Ukrainian nationals, has sought to reflect the reality that the response to the Ukrainian situation and the response to international protection applicants, in general, are inseparable issues. One cannot be solved in isolation from the other.

As a forum, we have repeatedly called on the Government to appoint a national lead with the responsibility to oversee and drive cross-departmental activities in response to the current situation.

In addition, we have called for the implementation of the recommendations of the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision, the establishment of a refugee agency and the large-scale resourcing of integration measures at a local level, benefitting all who need it.

We do not doubt the commitment of Minister Roderic O’Gorman to these aims, but we do question the overall political prioritisation of this issue.

There is a risk that the current circumstances are seen as a short-term crisis we simply need to ‘ride out’ and get through. Such thinking is contrary to the reality of migration in a modern, globalised world. We cannot lurch from crisis to crisis. We must plan and invest in the legal and integration needs of all those who come to Ireland seeking sanctuary, and, more broadly, all those who choose Ireland as their new home.

Not only do we have a moral obligation to do so, we have a national obligation to do so because it benefits all of Irish society that we get this right. As a nation, we must practice equality and respect, and show solidarity and compassion for all who face challenges.

We cannot fall into the trap of polarising the discussion more, instead, we must together seek alternatives for a fairer society for all.

Fellipe Lopes is the Communications and Engagement Coordinator at the Immigrant Council of Ireland. He is also a Filmmaker, Photographer and Activist.

VOICES

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