Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Providing support for vulnerable emigrants

Crosscare’s priority is to work with vulnerable emigrants so they can make the move in a planned and prepared manner, with good information and knowledge of available supports at their planned destination, writes Joe O’Brien.

Thu, Aug 16, 2012, 01:00


Crosscare’s priority is to work with vulnerable emigrants so they can make the move in a planned and prepared manner, with good information and knowledge of available supports at their planned destination, writes Joe O’Brien.

Crosscare Migrant Project (under various different names) has been supporting Irish people who are in the process of making a decision to emigrate for more than 70 years. In 1942, one of the main aims of the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau was “caring for emigrants, advising them before departure and doing everything possible for their welfare on arrival in British Industrial cities”. Much has changed since then, but there are many aspects of the emigration experience that remain the same.

The public comment over the last few years has been remiss to say that “emigration has returned” to Ireland. Even during the height of the Celtic Tiger many Irish people emigrated, with 15,300 leaving in 2006 alone. Some might say that forced emigration has returned – but in our view, this would not be accurate either as forced emigration was present through the Celtic Tiger, albeit in relatively small numbers.

Crosscare commissioned research in 2005 which estimated that 400 newly arrived Irish emigrants were presenting to homeless and welfare services in England on an annual basis. These were people who had been left behind by the economic boom – people who had addiction problems, were fleeing domestic violence or a broken family situation, or had already been accessing homeless services in Ireland. Our priority is to work with such people so that if they decide to emigrate they do so in a planned and prepared manner, with good information and knowledge of available supports at their planned destination.

While there may have been a level of “cultural emigration” during the Celtic Tiger years, the motivation for the majority of people emigrating now has changed significantly. In 2010, people who presented themselves to our service were asking us what their options were if they decided to leave Ireland. In 2011, there was a clear change in their profile – unemployed people looking to emigrate for work were contacting us, and it was less a question of “if” and more a question of “how”. We will not have the full figures from the Central Statistics Office  for emigration in 2011 until September, but all indications are that it will be the largest outflow of people from Ireland in a single year since the 1980s.

But Ireland now is very different to the 1980s or 1950s. Approximately 12 per cent of the population are non-Irish, most of whom have arrived in the last 15 years, and a significant proportion of total emigration from Ireland in the last 2-3 years has been of non-Irish nationals. We should not presume that these people left Ireland to “go home”, because for many of them, Ireland has become home. While some immigrants to Ireland can be quite mobile and accept moving on when employment prospects decline, it is crucial if we are to be true to Ireland’s emigrant experience that we recognise that “we” is a bigger word than it was 15 years ago.

One aspect that has not changed in terms of emigration from Ireland through the years is the importance of the UK. About one-third of recent Irish emigrants have left for the UK – the proximity, language, considerable historical and social connections, and size of the British economy will mean that for the foreseeable future, the UK is likely to remain the main destination for Irish emigrants.

Ease of access also means that some of our more vulnerable members of society also see the UK as a place to escape their troubles in Ireland and start anew. We have conducting several small research projects to find out more about this group, the first of which was published this week. We have met with various homeless and welfare services in the UK who are seeing an increase in newly arrived vulnerable emigrants from Ireland – people who we all have a responsibility to look out for. These reports will be available to view on our website.

These people’s stories will help us to ensure that should people in difficult situations decide to emigrate from Ireland, they and the services they are in contact with will be aware of our information and support service.

Joe O’Brien is policy officer with Crosscare Migrant Project, a Dublin-based information and advocacy service for emigrants, returnees and immigrants. See for comprehensive pre-departure factsheets for intending Irish emigrants, and monthly emigration news bulletins.

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