Debate On Immigration
Sir, - Writing from Germany, Anthony Cooney (July 30th) is very free with his advice to us back home about the social dangers of "people of diverse cultures". Worse is his patronising advice to "the liberals of Ireland" to provide support and "advisory groups" for what he calls "genuine refugees".
I trust, by the way, that he is in Germany as a genuine refugee and is not part of the "small army" (to use one of his phrases) of Irish economic migrants which has been sweeping across Europe since the 1840s.
Members of Comhlamh, made up mostly of Irish people who have worked in overseas development, are among many Irish groups working in partnership with refugees (for Mr Cooney's information, every asylum seeker is a genuine refugee until an independent body decides otherwise.)
We see this contact as an enormously important and enriching part of our work. If Mr Cooney was in Ireland he would have the chance to find out for himself how much Ireland has to learn from opening up to new cultures, skills and experiences. He would also have the chance to learn more of the degree of suffering from which so many asylum seekers are fleeing and would not blithely compare "a refugee from Sierra Leone [being] sent from pillar to post" with an applicant for planning permission.
The most difficult thing for Irish people working with refugees is to explain how we can claim to care about human rights and yet have no independent system for assessing asylum claims two years after our Parliament voted such a system into law. How we can allow a Minister who talks about turning down 90 per cent of applications to appoint the officials who decide those applications and those who handle appeals. How a Minister can complain about the cost of social security when people are kept waiting for up to five years for a decision and prohibited from working. Most hurtful of all is to be asked, as we are repeatedly, why people who are forced to flee from repression have to retell their life stories constantly in the Irish media and to officials just to be accepted as valid human beings.
Maybe from his experience in Germany Mr Cooney can help us answer these questions. - Yours, etc., Robin Hanan, Secretary,
Comhlamh, Irish Association of Returned Development Workers, Upper Camden Street, Dublin 2.