Lack of affordable housing is key issue

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Sir, – As non-governmental organisations that provide support to refugees and asylum seekers living in Ireland and overseas, and a Senator who has led on this issue, we are profoundly disturbed by Eileen Gleeson’s statements in Jack Power’s piece (“Refugee family reunification putting ‘pressure’ on homeless system”, August 9th).

Her comments incorrectly point to people who have come to Ireland fleeing conflict and persecution and are seeking our protection. That some refugee families are homeless is not the fault of refugee families but that of Irish legislation and policy and a lack of political will to find a solution to the housing crisis. Presenting the issue as anything but a housing issue could fuel fear and discrimination against refugees.

Family reunification is a fundamental right of refugees and is widely recognised as a key first step to integration. This right has been legally available to refugees in Ireland for decades; it is not a “scheme”, as your report states, and it is not new. What is new in this context is the 2015 International Protection Act, which has significantly curtailed the right to family reunification for refugees. A refugee now has only 12 months to apply for family reunification for immediate family members – spouse and minor children.

In our experience, this has meant that refugees now apply for family reunification immediately, without having an opportunity to set themselves up accommodation and employment. This does indeed put refugee families at high risk of homelessness – but this is not the fault of refugees.

Ms Gleeson references a person bringing nine family members to Ireland. In our experience, this is extremely rare. Figures provided by the Department of Justice in a Parliamentary Question last year show that the average number of family members applied for is two.

Although we note that Ms Gleeson suggests that she has “no issue” with refugees bringing family members to Ireland, her comments also appear to blame refugee families for being homeless. Not only is that not the case, but these comments also deflect attention away from the critical problem Ireland is currently experiencing in relation to access to affordable housing. The problem is the lack of housing, not refugee family reunification.

We must never forget that refugees are men, women and children fleeing things most of us could not possibly imagine – violence, torture, terrorism, death. They need our help, our support, and our compassion. Let’s not lose sight of the real problem here – lack of affordable housing for vulnerable families. – Yours, etc,

Senator COLETTE KELLEHER; FIONA FINN CEO Nasc, the Migrant and refugee Rights Centre; NICK HENDERSON CEO Irish Refugee Council; JIM CLARKEN, Chief Executive, Oxfam Ireland,

C/o Cork.

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