Despite barriers, Rohingya resettlement in Carlow deemed success

Report finds minority Muslim group faces difficulties with language and employment

Rohingya refugees continue their way after crossing from Myanmar into Palang Khali, Bangladesh, in November  2017:  Some 64 members of the Rohingya community arrived in Ireland in 2009.  Photograph: Hannah McKay

Rohingya refugees continue their way after crossing from Myanmar into Palang Khali, Bangladesh, in November 2017: Some 64 members of the Rohingya community arrived in Ireland in 2009. Photograph: Hannah McKay

 

A report into the resettlement of more than 60 Rohingya people in Carlow more than a decade ago has warned of the educational and professional barriers still facing the minority Muslim group in Ireland’s southeast.

The report from the Carlow County Development Partnership, published on Friday, has described the programme as a success.

Most members of the group have faced racism and isolation during their time in the country and still sense a bias when it comes to employment, it warns. Some 64 members of the Rohingya community, including 41 children, arrived in Ireland in spring 2009 as part of a resettlement agreement between the Irish government and the UN Refugee Agency.

As programme refugees, the group immediately had the right to work and access to health, education and social welfare. They could apply for citizenship after three years rather than the usual five.

Education has been the “primary driver of progress and integration” within the Rohingya community, but the development of English language skill remains the “single most critical issue” for progress in education and work, notes the report. This requires “significant investment at the start” to allow people to reach their potential.

Language fluency

The report finds young children settled quickly into primary school and became fluent in English. However, those who started into secondary school have found life in Ireland far more challenging. Rohingya women have also struggled to grasp the English language as men are more likely engage with schools and public services on their behalf.

Often dubbed the most persecuted people in the world, the Rohingya people have endured decades of persecution and human rights abuses with hundreds of thousands fleeing their native Myanmar in 2017 after violence broke out in the northern Rakhine state.

Following the Government’s decision to welcome the Rohingya people, a resettlement committee was established in Carlow, while St Catherine’s Community Service Centre was chosen to lead the project.

As they had lived most of their lives in camps with no running water or private toilet facilities, a network of local volunteers was established to help support the families, writes the report.

While the resettlement programme was only due to last 16 months, it was extended to 2012 given the group’s needs. Many of the men struggled to secure work during the years of recession and only a small number have secured full-time work in the longer term.

Experience of racism

While the experience of the Rohingya community in Ireland has been largely positive, the report finds almost every interviewee had experienced racism in Carlow.

It notes that one young woman felt her hijab would be a barrier when trying to find work in the future. The Rohingya community was very much the vanguard for the acceptance of diversity in Carlow but have become deeply attached to the town, with only a handful leaving for other parts of Ireland, the report says.

Today, one in 10 people living in Co Carlow are foreign-born out of a population of 54,185 people.

Ten years after their arrival, the Rohingya are playing an active role in sport, culture and political activism and are “very grateful” for the support they’ve received.

However, local authorities and business need to break down mindsets and barriers by eliminating unconscious bias, says the report. It also warns that the State’s policy of dispersing refugees to smaller towns makes finding employment more difficult than it might be in larger cities.