Government calls for Irish communities to sponsor refugee families

New sponsorship programme will see Syrians resettled directly into a community

Syrian families are seen in Damascus countryside in October 2013. File photograph: Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters

Syrian families are seen in Damascus countryside in October 2013. File photograph: Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters

 

The Department of Justice will today announce the launch of the new community sponsorship initiative encouraging villages, towns and parishes across Ireland to “sponsor” a vulnerable refugee family.

Under the programme, a Syrian refugee family will be resettled directly into a community rather than spending time in an emergency reception and orientation centre (EROC) or direct provision. The sponsor community must find suitable housing for the family and help them find employment and learn English, and enrol children in school.

A pilot of the programme which began last year saw the town of Dunshaughlin, Co Meath, welcome a Syrian family last December, while Wicklow town welcomed a family in April.

The Lismore Welcome Project in Co Waterford recently applied to the programme and is waiting for a Syrian family in Jordan or Lebanon to be selected for resettlement.

The group has been working with Syrian refugees in the EROC centre at Clonea Strand Hotel since 2016. On Monday they held a public meeting in Lismore which was disrupted by a small number of protesters who opposed the resettlement of refugees in Ireland. Ithel McKenna, treasurer of the group, said the nearly 200 attendees felt “bullied” by the presence of the protesters.

“We had a small number of outsiders who tried to disrupt the meeting and subvert the democratic discussion. There were people there with genuine concerns, but this group was an attempt to intimidate us.”

Ms McKenna said that after the meeting the group was approached by a large number of locals who were eager to help.

“I think the energy in the room galvanised a lot of people into feeling this is not right and who said they’d love to be on a volunteer list and help raise money.”

Lismore resident Brian Buckley, who is in favour of the project, described the protesters’ behaviour at the meeting as “shameful”.

“I think there were people . . . who aren’t from the locality, who came to hijack the meeting and got their own views ahead of the local community.”

‘Two-way process’

Speaking at the event, Minister of State for Integration David Stanton said sponsorship would allow Irish communities to support refugees in a practical and tangible way.

“Integration is a two-way process. If each community around the country does this we can actually have our 4,000 people [the State has pledged to take] here fairly soon and spread around the country. But that can only happen if communities come forward and say we want to be part of this.”

More than 300,000 refugees have been resettled across Canada since its community sponsorship programme began four decades ago.

“Now Canada has more communities seeking to sponsor than they have refugees to send around,” says Fiona Finn from the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre.

“Not only do refugee families benefit because their integration is accelerated, but the community itself often says this is the best thing we’ve ever done. It creates a more positive attitude towards refugees and helps dispel a lot of the myths and negative rhetoric we see around refugees.”

Nola Leonard, a member of the Dunshaughlin group that welcomed a family in December, said the local support had enabled the new arrivals to settle quickly into Irish life.

“I wonder how any refugees arriving in Ireland manage when they don’t have a team of people helping them. It’s far better than sending people to reception centres and it’s been wonderful for us as a group too. They’re basically our best friends now.”