A campaign group supporting Syrians who have relocated to Ireland is urging the Government to introduce a new scheme to allow family members join them here.
Cork's immigrant support group Nasc says the Government should introduce a scheme based on the 2014 Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme (Shap) under which 103 visas were issued to Syrians hoping to join family in Ireland.
Nasc chief executive Fiona Finn said the proposed “Safe Passage” scheme would allow people to “bypass the use of traffickers and smugglers and the reliance on dangerous boat crossing, providing a safe and legal channel for Syrians to join their loved ones here in Ireland.
"It is a perfect complement to the ongoing Refugee Protection Programme and, through a sponsorship mechanism, will not place any additional burden on the Irish Government. "
Under the scheme,Irish citizens, private organisations, religious organisations, NGOs and community groups would be able to provide financial backing to Syrian residents who do not have the financial resources to apply for reunification.
Asked about the proposal, a spokesman for the Department of Justice cited Ireland’s commitment to accept 4,000 people through a combination of relocation and resettlement programmes. He said the department’s resources would focus on ensuring “the successful delivery of Ireland’s commitments under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme”.
Ms Finn said there was a lack of urgency in the Government’s attempts to bring refugees to Ireland and said the rate of refusal for family reunification of Syrians was very high.
She said non-refugee Syrians who had come to Ireland for work had to earn at least €60,000 per annum for at least two years in order to apply for a parent to join them.
She said the advantage of the Nasc proposal was, “you’re bringing families into a set up, well-established community. There are also a lot of community groups wanting and willing to help and support. That goodwill is going to fade.”
Amjad Shaaban moved to Cork in 2011 as a Swedish national after being offered a job in sales. He had left Syria in 2005 and became an EU citizen after moving to Sweden for work.
The last time he saw his parents and older brothers was in 2010 when he visited the family outside Damascus. In 2012 his mother died of a heart attack.
Earlier this year Shaaban applied for his father and brothers to join him in Ireland. In April his father died of a stroke, only three days after he discovered his application had been refused. His appeal for his brothers to join him was also refused.
“My two brothers are older, they’re single and don’t have families,” he said. “I’m capable of hosting them, I have a decent salary plus own a flat in Cork. I’m contributing to this society and all I ask for in return is a safe place for my brothers.
“Just consider that we are human beings. Imagine if this happened to your own family. I’ve lost my mother and my father. I only have two brothers, I don’t have anyone else.”
Nisreen Youssef, who came to Ireland with her young son in 2014 and now lives in Clonakilty in west Cork, recently brought her mother and sister to Ireland through family reunification. She is now trying to bring her brother and other sister who are still in Syria. But she is only entitled to apply for siblings, not for their spouses or children, to join them.
“My sister will never come here without her kids, she would prefer to stay in Syria and die,” says Ms Youssef. “My brother needs to get out because he’s wanted for military service.”
“Every day we pray, please god let our family be together again. Physically I’m tired but I have faith and hope that the Irish Government will open this project so all my family can be together. I have this dream and I have the right to dream.”