Tuesday, February 28, 2023

James Cox

Issues around accommodating refugees are the result of years of the State failing to take international protection responsibilities seriously, according to a professor who specialises in migrant integration.

The Cabinet is set to meet to discuss issues with accommodating migrants, while and Oireachtas committee heard from charity Nasc on Monday, who warned international protection applicants will be “left to sleep on the streets”.

Professor Mary Gilmartin of Maynooth University is currently working on two funded research projects, both of which focus on the process of migrant integration.

Prof Gilmartin told BreakingNews.ie: “We’ve had a persistent problem with delays in people getting judgements, that’s an ongoing problem that has never been fully resolved since the introduction of Direct Provision.

“For refugees, particularly with the numbers of Ukrainian refugees, housing is a huge issue. Housing has been an issue for people in Direct Provision who have got their status but cannot leave the system because they cannot find housing.

“Housing is a really big issue for all kinds of people, not just asylum seekers and refugees. We’ve been building things, but we’ve been building the wrong kinds of accommodation… student accommodation, hotels, but we haven’t been investing in social housing for peoples at all the stages that are needed to provide housing.”

She said one of the biggest problems for refugees and asylum seekers is the fact they can be moved to different areas at short notice, which prevents people from being integrated into local communities.

We have a duty to treat people seeking international protection with respect, with dignity…

“I understand that it’s hard finding accommodation for so many people, but it’s part of our international responsibility, so we should be better prepared for it than we are,” she added.

“We have a duty to treat people seeking international protection with respect, with dignity, but this has been a continuation of a process where sometimes we have large numbers of international protection applicants, and we’re told delays are because of the large numbers… then when the numbers drop resources are taken out of providing for them and the same delays and problems persists. It has been an issue we haven’t treated seriously enough, and we haven’t taken our responsibilities to international protection applicants seriously enough for decades… it’s not new.”

While concerns have been raised about anti-refugee protests across the country, Prof Gilmartin pointed to the community organisations that have responded with efforts to welcome asylum seekers.

“What we’re not seeing is all the communities trying to provide support, everywhere there is a protest there are also community groups trying to provide support.

“What we’re seeing is communities trying to pick up the pieces for a whole range of inadequate planning for population increase that’s been happening for a number of years. We have inadequate planning in relation to housing, and I think that’s really clear right now, but we also have inadequate planning in relation to healthcare.

“We have GP shortages particularly in rural areas in addition to the problem with our hospitals. We haven’t done a great job planning for population increase, and we’re seeing consequences of that now.”

While Government has promised an end to the Direct Provision system, this will be delayed by the influx of refugees as a result of the war in Ukraine.

Prof Gilmartin said conditions in Direct Provision centres need to be improved now, while working towards the ultimate goal of an improved system.

Direct Provision problems

“One of the problems with Direct Provision over the years is we’ve had very few purpose built or designed DP centres, we’ve been using hotels as short-term accommodation. What we haven’t been doing is building up the skills, the particular skills that are needed to support people coming from difficult situations into Ireland. Community organisations and locals are filling in that gap, there is a clear willingness to provide support for people in need in all kinds of ways.

“That’s there, but it has to be matched by State and local government efforts that are sustained and not just a short-term sticking plaster.

“Both things are important, they must address the everyday challenges people are facing while building a better system in the long-term.”

She pointed out that the process of integration starts as soon as refugees arrive in the country.

“It’s important to recognise that if people come to Ireland to claim asylum, their integration starts from the moment they arrive and that’s particularly important if they are granted status to remain here.

“If somebody, who has a right to be in Ireland and it takes us five years to decide that, their integration still starts from the moment they arrive here. If they are living in really difficult conditions, being moved around, and can’t have a decent quality of life this will all result in longer term problems for us as a society.”

Prof Gilmartin said a more integrated approach is needed to deal with problems around refugees and asylum seekers, as they are tied in with health, housing and other areas.

“I think that political parties in Government, and politicians, people in the public service, all want this to be better. There’s a commitment to acknowledge and address the problems. How we respond to it is so tied into other issues like housing, health, education, that it needs a much more integrated approach to addressing the fault lines that this level of refugee movement have shown up.

“It’s really important not to make it an issue just about refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, it’s about saying what kind of society do we want to develop and actually focusing on that for all of us.”

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