Refugees: a continuing failure

Local activists and politicians believe the people of Ballaghaderreen, as well as the refugees, have been let down

Cllr Michael Mulligan, Dr Martin Garvey and Micheal Frain on The Square, with a view of Main Street, Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon. Photograph; Mick McCormack

Cllr Michael Mulligan, Dr Martin Garvey and Micheal Frain on The Square, with a view of Main Street, Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon. Photograph; Mick McCormack

 

When the people of Ballaghaderreen confounded the naysayers and opened their community to Syrian refugees last year, it was regarded as an important victory for basic human values. And so it was. External resistance to the establishment of an Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre there was overcome, along with some local reservations. For this humanitarian behaviour, the town has now received a Community Group of the Year Award in Dublin.

All is not well, however. Commitments given by Government and its agencies to provide more support for the refugees have not been met. As a result, some services for local people have deteriorated. Healthcare has been particularly affected and waiting times for GP appointments and dental treatment have grown. There were delays in providing teachers and special educational services, while planning permission for a childcare centre is still awaited. Local activists and politicians believe the people of Ballaghaderreen, as well as the refugees, have been let down.

This trend of official neglect became evident last year. Official documents recorded ‘deep concern’ that the Department of Health had made no special financial provision for refugees, while recipients were said to be ‘immensely frustrated’ because of dental treatment. Unless these failings are addressed and efforts made to reward communities offering a welcome to refugees, the prospect of successful integration will diminish.

The State has a poor record in responding to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers. An unwelcoming attitude marked the policy of the Department of Justice as it sought to minimise the inflow of applicants during recent decades. Asylum seekers were subjected to unconscionable delays, unsuitable conditions in direct provision centres and denied a right to work before public opinion and the courts intervened. Refugees admitted as part of this EU humanitarian programme have fared better. Much remains to be done, however, particularly through the promotion of industry, jobs and services. Local communities, as well as refugees, should be seen to benefit.

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