Support centre for refugees in Cork may close

 

The main support centre for immigrants in Cork is in danger of closing due to a funding crisis, it emerged yesterday.

The Irish Immigrant Support Centre, known as NASC, has been providing essential services to asylum-seekers, refugees and migrant workers for the last three years. But one of the centre's chairwomen, Ms Gertrude Cotter, said Government and EU funds have dried up and it has had not paid staff since last January.

A group of voluntary workers have been keeping the offices running in recent months, she said, but this could not continue for much longer given the level of demand for professional services.

"This is an unacceptable situation in a city the size of Cork. Under the Government's dispersal programme, Cork has the highest number of asylum-seeker centres in the country and yet there are no services to support these people and those who are eventually granted refugee status or leave to remain," Ms Cotter said.

"The reality is that the Government has engaged in a policy of dumping large numbers of people into our city and has given no appropriate supports to those people. NASC has played a key role in filling that gap. The funding cutbacks reflect a lack of political and civic leadership and political apathy on issues relating to asylum-seekers and other immigrants," she said.

The threat of closure comes at a time when UCC is planning to close its Irish Centre for Migration Studies, which is the country's main specialist research body in the area.

Ms Cotter said NASC has been providing a range of important services such as information clinics, computer training and English classes. She said the exploitation of migrant workers by employers was "huge" and that the centre had helped to combat this by educating employees about their rights and entitlements.

"There is a wide variation in the type of people with different needs who come here. Some are very serious, like a woman who is a survivor of torture whose five children had been killed. We try to give people who come here a step up by providing education, training and guidance counselling," Ms Cotter said.

Immigrants are continuing to call to the centre's door even though it now provides a rudimentary service. She said, however, volunteers would work hard to ensure the facility does not close. "NASC has no intentions of going away and will continue to fight for those who have been segregated to the margins of our city," she said.

Substantial numbers are claiming asylum, although the level has fallen off dramatically since last January's Supreme Court ruling that non-nationals have no automatic right to residency on the basis of a child born here. The figures for this year show monthly applications decreasing from 979 in January to 947 in February, 892 in March and then dropping to 667 in April.