Accommodating refugees: The perils of secrecy

Rather than focus on their needs, many locals considered the appalling situation facing refugees living in freezing, makeshift camps in Greece and Italy and offered helping hands

 

The high-handed manner in which the Department of Justice set about providing temporary accommodation for Syrian refugees in Ballaghadereen, Co Roscommon, provides a cautionary lesson on the importance of local involvement and consultation.

It is not the first time this secretive approach has been adopted by the Department in the opening of refugee reception centres but it should be the last. Local opposition, prompted by a lack of information and unrealised expectations is the last thing that refugees, who are fleeing war and the destruction of their homes, should have to face.

Business people who questioned the use of the refurbished Abbeyfield Hotel as a reception and orientation centre had hoped the facility might attract tourists to the town and reverse its slow economic decline. They spoke of shuttered shops, a bank closure and a motorway by-pass as evidence of neglect that could, in some unspecified way, be made worse by the arrival of refugees.

Lacking official information, they went on to predict all of the services required within the reception centre would be contracted in from outside with no benefit accruing to local businesses. This is what happens when communal interests are ignored.

In the furore created by the decision, which extended to emergency county council and local business meetings, it was reassuring to note that sympathy for the Syrian refugees broadly prevailed against overt racist tendencies and that, as public shock following the unexpected announcement subsided, more appealing aspects of Irish life came to the fore.

Rather than focus on themselves and their needs, many locals considered the appalling situation facing refugees living in freezing, makeshift camps in Greece and Italy and offered helping hands.

Fear of the unknown and a “not in my backyard” mentality mean some opposition to the arrival of refugees is inevitable irrespective of the location. But a sense of shared humanity, in the context of the horrors of the Syrian conflict, should overcome this.

At local level, the provision of associated pre-school and adult teaching facilities, health services, catering and laundry, security and general maintenance and retail spending should all help local economies. So should the expertise of the refugees themselves who in the case of Ballaghadereen will number 250 over a two-year period.

Minister of State David Stanton has accepted that the late announcement concerning Ballaghadereen was “unfortunate”. It was more than that. It represented a potential disaster.

Rather than avoiding opposition or limiting the time available for it to gain momentum, unnecessary secrecy is more likely to damage the public confidence and spontaneous communal generosity that are essential to successful resettlement.

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