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'Refugees Welcome' wall mural on the Falls Road, Belfast. Alamy Stock Photo
VOICES

Opinion When we hear about 'refugees' or 'migrants', remember these are real people

Fellipe Lopes of the Immigrant Council of Ireland says the people fleeing conflict to live in Ireland can enrich and enhance this country.

YOU GO TO work every day, you come home to your family, you make plans to go on holidays, or see your friends at the weekend – living your life in a safe environment, not without challenges, but in peace. This is normality for thousands, even millions of people across the country.

Imagine if, one day, your world as you know it is taken from you. You have to flee to another country to survive and then rebuild your life from scratch. This, sadly, is the reality for millions of people across the world today.

The privilege of living a life in peace is becoming increasingly rare for many populations across the globe. Humanitarian crises, wars and armed conflicts continue to rise: from the crises in South and Central America; the unrest in Sudan; the famine devastating countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America; to the conflict in Palestine; the civil unrest in the Middle East; the unprecedented violence in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan; and of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The sad reality of thousands making the deadly crossing across the Mediterranean towards Europe and the land route towards the US shows the scale of the challenges affecting millions around the world.

Migration

Looking at other chapters in history, migration is not a new phenomenon. It has happened at different times and in different places around the world – including here in Ireland, during the years of The Famine, causing mass mortality, as well as forcing an estimated one million people to flee the country.

Although migration is often caused by turbulent and traumatic events, the outcomes can be positive for society. As a welcoming nation, with many migrants and refugees here seeking international protection, we need to see this as an opportunity for Ireland to become a diverse country, with an even more vibrant and enriched cultural landscape.

Migrants living in Ireland have the potential to make significant contributions to society – if they are empowered to do so.

Currently, many refugees who have fled to Ireland seeking international protection, find themselves homeless or living in overcrowded rooms, in unsuitable conditions. The Government has a responsibility to guarantee basic rights for migrants arriving in Ireland. However, this year, we have seen them failing on this, as well as failing to look ahead to their medium and longer-term needs.

Skilled labour

According to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Critical Skills Employment Permit was ”designed to attract highly skilled people into the labour market, with the aim of encouraging them to take up permanent residence in the State”. This list presents a range of opportunities that many immigrants already living in Ireland do not have access to, due to restrictions on their immigration status.

In addition, sectors such as hospitality and construction face workforce shortages across the country. According to a study done by the Economic Social Research Institute, migrants living in Ireland are more likely to have third-level qualifications than the native-born population, which shows that we have a skilled workforce ready to work in this country, ready to start contributing to society, but instead, many remain in limbo while they wait for decisions on their Irish residency status applications.

While many migrants are unauthorised to work, this can result in some of them relying on the State for financial support. Some do not qualify for support of this nature at all. The allowances provided for most refugees in Ireland are well below a living wage, ultimately completely disempowering them in becoming part of society and integrating into the community. It seems like an obvious solution to fast-track the application processes and allow refugees access the workforce so that they can get on with their lives.

Such an action, in addition to being a start for an equal opportunity society, will also reduce the pressure on emergency accommodation in the State, allowing it to focus on other vulnerable groups living in Ireland.

We need to engage with this challenge, create a safe passage for those fleeing humanitarian crises, promote social integration once they arrive in Ireland and encourage solidarity, support and equal respect for all. The government, and society as a whole, need to remember that when we talk about ‘refugees’ or ‘migrants’ – these are real people and real stories, not just statistics or numbers. And maybe someday, it could be me or you. Immigration is not the issue. Immigration is potentially part of the solution to a global problem.

Fellipe Lopes is the Communications and Engagement Coordinator with the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

VOICES

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