Refugees: The Resettlement Option

We have all been rightly horrified at the plight of refugees who are faced to confront the dangers of the sea in their journeys to Europe. These journeys are undertaken not only at great personal risk, the refugees who find themselves in this precarious predicament are victims of an exploitative multi-billion dollar trafficking industry.

After World War II thousands of displaced people within Europe are facilitated in finding a new home elsewhere in Europe or even in the United States. Some were assisted in relocating in countries as diverse as Ireland and Israel.

Resettlement involves the sponsoring of refugees and the provision of protection and the possibility of beginning a new life in another country. For many refugees, returning home ie not an option. As Somali refugee Warsaw Shire said in her now famous poem, No One Leaves Home, “you only run for the border when the whole city runs as well.” There is no going back. That is the situation in which many find themselves.

European Response

In 2015, as Europe confronted its migration crisis with thousands pouring over borders heading for Germany and Sweden, the Council of Europe sought to enter into agreements with European countries to establish a resettlement option for refugees. This would mean that vulnerable people seeking asylum in a European country could do so without risking their lives. Under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the right to asylum, a person at risk can seek asylum in another country. Europe never envisaged the combination of factors which would lead to the current tidal wave of migrant flows. It is now time to put in place a structured policy for resettlement.

The European Union has ac very promoted refugee rest element over the past ten years, including rest element as an essential part of the external dimension of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Coordination and resourcing of European resettlement has been further strengthened by the 2013 establishment of the Joint EU Resettlement Programme.

Fourteen countries, including Ireland and the United Kingdom, have signed up to the resettlement policy. This is involves a commitment to the provision of resettlement place. At the moment this number is so small as to be almost derisory. Why is this? It is partly because states have not begun to reflect on the benefits of such a policy and how it might be implemented. It remains still as a ‘nice to have’ option. But it is not taken seriously.

International Catholic Commission for Migration

Enter the NGO sector. The International Catholic Commission for Migration (ICMC) has taken resettlement seriously. Working with partners in a number of European countries, it has begun to establish a viable option for resettlement of refugees.

ICMC has established a project called the SHARE Network. This project calls for a network of European cities willing to offer resettlement places to migrants.ICMC is advocating for the provision annually of 20,000 resettlement places across Europe. Currently, some 7000 people have been resettled by ICMC through this scheme. Obviously there is room for further development of this initiative across Europe. Given the need, there is an urgent need for an expansion of the programme.

A feature of the SHARE European Resettlement Network is that it is focused on local civil society organisations, including municipalities and local NGOs. Local communities can engage with this programme to offer resettlement places.

In Ireland St Catherine’s Community Services Centre in Carlow is a partner with ICMC in resettling refugees. The Centre has worked with State agencies to ensure the provision of services for incoming families:

Our Resettlement Committee ensured that ‘arrival plans’ for the families were put in place before the families arrived. We have met every six weeks since then to oversee the development of the programme. At each committee meeting, the resettlement worker updates us on the work that has taken place. The meetings also provide a forum to discuss important matters such as mainstreaming, education and health and then to agree a co-ordinated response to any issues.

Carlow has successfully integrated members of the vulnerable Myanmar Rohingya community whose lives are often in danger in their own country. The 13 families accepted by Carlow has been living in refugee camps in Bangladesh since 1992.

If only this programme could be expanded on a European basis linking municipalities and communities in a common humanitarian effort.


Lessons “Sofia” can teach

Sofia, a virtual child created to give a face to refugee children, haunts Cork Life Centre’s deputy director, Rachel Lucey. Here, she explains why.

Sofia is a virtual child.

She was created by UNICEF Sweden using 500 images of real children in conflict to represent many millions of refugee children globally.

“I am not real I’m the face of all the children suffering from emergencies no one talks about,” the tagline of the campaign states.

But the issues Sofia has stirred up for me are so very real, and her image has haunted me ever since I first saw it.

Sofia not only represents children across the world, invisible in their plights, but those closer to home, the children whose stories are never heard, and who never get the opportunities they so deserve.

Every day in the course of my work, I am deeply privileged to work with children whose human challenges and struggles have left them on the edges of, and eventually outside, the mainstream education system.

When families and children are brave enough to trust you with their stories and journeys and allow you to work with them, that knowledge and privilege drives you to understand, to try to make a positive impact – and to advocate on their behalf.

It is easy to be shocked and disillusioned with the lack of a response and lack of empathy to the refugee crisis and to the suffering of children in any circumstance or any part of the world. How can people not respond?

It is easy to depersonalise what we do not know, what we do not understand, what we have not experienced. But if you meet a Sofia then all this will change, and you will think and worry and feel not just for Sofia, but for all the children in similar circumstances that you have not had the opportunity to meet.

I have never met a child whose story, strength, unique personality and talents did not teach me something wonderful and hopeful about the world, albeit a confusing one that seems brutal at times.

And while I cannot always be certain of the impact we at the Cork Life Centre have made, and always feel we could have done more, I am at least assured these children were given opportunities, became part of a community where they were treasured, valued and where they mattered; where somebody missed them if they did not appear, where there was someone to not just listen but hear them, and where if there was a problem we were always ready to try and work on it together.

So regardless of the onward journey or direction these children’s lives took and even if there are further struggles waiting for them on the horizon, I can feel assured they know our red doors are always open to them.

But as referrals increase and resources remain the same, it is with a heavy heart that I think about all the children I will not meet- those we will not greet at the red door. And there are many. We receive calls almost daily seeking placements at a level of demand we cannot meet. This is one of the most difficult parts of the job.

There are many children in Cork alone –  over 4,000 annually that leave education early  – that we will not meet. Roughly 10% of children in this country do not complete senior cycle education and this figure doubles in DEIS schools. I do not know what all these children look like, and I do not have a Sofia to represent these many faces and stories. But I know without hesitation there is something good to be unlocked in each one, if only we work to find the key.

We need to move beyond statistics and stereotypes and recognise the individual needs, strengths and rights of all children to learning environments that meet their needs not just educational but social, personal and human.

Every child deserves a champion, deserves at they very least their ‘one good adult.’ But how are we going to achieve this if we do not recognise them individually? This for me is what Sofia represents. An attempt to recognise not just a collective story, but each individual one.

By corklifecentrein Children, UncategorizedApril 20, 2016708 WordsLeave a commentEdit

No More Fences – Brother Alois (Taizé)

Across the world, women, men and children are being forced to leave their land. It is their distress that creates in them a motivation to leave. That distress is stronger than all the barriers that impede their move.

I can vouch for this, since recently I spent a few days in Syria.

In the city of Homs, the extent of the destruction caused by the bombing is unimaginable. Much of the city is in ruins. I saw a ghost town and I felt the despair of the inhabitants of the country.

Today Syrians are flooding into Europe; tomorrow it will be other peoples. The large flows of migration that we are seeing are inevitable. Not realising this would be shortsighted.

Looking for ways to regulate the flow of migrants is legitimate and even necessary, but to want to prevent it by building walls bristling with barbed wire is absolutely useless.

When we are confronted by this situation, fear is understandable. Resisting fear does not mean that it has to disappear, but that it should not paralyse us. We must not allow the rejection of foreigners to take root in our minds, for the refusal of the other is the seed of barbarism.

As a first step, the rich countries should acquire a clearer awareness that they have their share of responsibility for the wounds of history that have caused and continue to cause massive migration, particularly from Africa or the Middle East.

And today, some specific political choices remain a source of instability in these regions. A second approach should cause them to go beyond the fear of foreigners, of cultural differences, and begin courageously to shape the new face that migration is already giving to our societies in the West.

Instead of seeing foreigners as a threat to our standard of living or our culture, we should welcome them as members of the same human family. And we shall find that although the flow of refugees and migrants certainly creates difficulties, it can also be an opportunity.

Recent studies show the positive impact of migration on the population and the economy. Why do so many speeches emphasise the difficulties so much and never highlight the positive aspects?

Those who knock at the door of countries richer than their’s cause these countries to learn solidarity. Do they not help them to gain a new vitality?

I would like to mention here our experience at Taizé. It is humble and limited but very real. Since last November, in connection with the local government, the community of municipalities to which our village belongs and local associations, we have been hosting at Taizé 11 young migrants from Sudan—most from Darfur—and from Afghanistan, all coming from the “jungle” of Calais.

Their arrival has sparked an impressive show of solidarity in our region: volunteers come to teach them French, doctors treat them for free, neighbours take them to outings in the area and for bike rides….

Surrounded by friendship in this way, these young people who have gone through tragic events are rebuilding their lives. And such a simple contact with Muslims changes the outlook of those around them.

In the village, these young people have also been welcomed by families from various countries—Vietnam, Laos, Bosnia, Rwanda, Egypt, Iraq—who came to Taizé in past decades and who are now an integral part of our wider community.

All have experienced great suffering but bring vitality to our village as a result of the richness and diversity of their cultures.

If such an experience is possible in a small region, why cannot it be undertaken on a much larger scale?

It is wrong to think that xenophobia is the sentiment most widely shared—often there is above all a great deal of ignorance. Once personal encounters are possible, fears give way to fellowship. This involves seeing things from the other’s point of view. Mutual friendship is the only way to prepare for a future of peace.

By taking on together the responsibilities required by the wave of migration, rather than by playing on people’s fears, political leaders could help the European Union regain a momentum that has been greatly slowed down.

A whole younger generation in Europe aspires to this openness. We are aware of this, since for years we have been welcoming on our hill of Taizé, for week-long international meetings, tens of thousands of young people across the continent. They see that the building up of Europe finds its true meaning only if it shows solidarity with other continents and with the poorest peoples.

Many young Europeans have difficulty understanding their governments when they declare the intent to close their borders. These young people ask rather that the globalisation of economics be associated with a globalisation of solidarity, and that it be expressed in particular by a dignified and responsible welcome offered to migrants.

Many of them are ready and willing to contribute to this. Let us remain confident that generosity also has a major role to play in the life of the city.

Article by Brother Alois Löser is Prior of the Ecumenical Community of Taizé in France

Refugees: Basic Information

Who is a refugee?

In plain English, a refugee is anyone who is forced to leave their country. This situation is dramatically illustrated by Warsaw Shire’s poem, No one Leaves Home. Refugees, according to the UN Convention on Refugees (1951) are people in danger of persecution for any of the following reasons:

  • Race: Including ethnicity e.g. Roma people.
  • Religion: In some countries not belonging to a religion (e.g. agnostics or atheists) is viewed as badly as belonging to the ‘wrong’ religion
  • Nationality: And not just nationality. Membership of a particular social group, for example, a trade union can be an issue. It is also unfortunately the case that gender (i.e. male or female), sexual orientation, age (i.e. if children are in danger of persecution) can be a consideration.
  • Political opinion: This applies not only in relation to membership of political parties but also arises because of political opinions held. Sometimes things can go wrong even if people think you do. For some people who are refugees their only ‘crime’ is thinking differently from the mainstream.

Who is eligible for subsidiary protection under the Convention?

A third country national, not a refugee, who if returned to his/her country of origin, faces a real risk of suffering serious harm is entitled to protection. Many such persons often face potential dangers such as: execution for political reasons, torture, degrading treatment or punishment.

A person can also qualify for refugee status if it is determined that a serious threat to an individual’s life exists because of situations where indiscriminate violence exists. This often arises in situations involving armed conflict, whether international or internal (e.g. in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Burundi, South Sudan, and many other countries where civil unrest exists).

Who is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone who is seeking to be recognised as a refugee. If they are granted this recognition they are declared a refugee.

Where do refugees typically come from?

The top three countries of origin globally for refugees are Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

How do asylum seekers live in Ireland?

While their application is being processed, asylum seekers are housed by the Irish government’s Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) in direct provision accommodation centres around the country. This means that they live in hostel-like accommodation, where families are often housed in one room, and singles usually share a room with others of the same sex. Shower and toilet facilities are often shared. Televisions are provided in each room and some centres have a games room. Meals are cooked for the residents, and served at a set time each day. There are no facilities for preparing meals in the vast majority of centres.

What kind of welfare entitlements exist for asylum seekers?

Do asylum seekers get social welfare or children’s allowance?

Asylum seekers receive a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child. This must cover any additional school expenses, clothing, footwear, toiletries, phone credit, internet access, etc.

Can asylum seekers work?

Asylum seekers are not permitted to work in Ireland, therefore they are forced to depend on the state.

Can children who are asylum seekers or refugees go to school?

All children that have been given refugee status are entitled to the same rights as Irish children including the same access to education.

Children that are waiting for a decision on their asylum application can attend primary and secondary school, but they are not entitled to free fees for college and must pay non-EU fees which they usually cannot afford. Remember, asylum seekers receive only €19.10 per week per adult and €9.60 per child. It would take a long time to save enough for college fees!

Note: See this RTE special RTE Investigates programme on Asylum Seekers in Ireland Click here

Ireland’s Reception Rate

This is from the RTE Investigates TV programme Information Graphic.

  • Sweden: 318 per 100,000 of the population
  • Germany: 50 per 100.000 of the population
  • Bulgaria: 96 per 100,000 of the population
  • United Kingdom: 15 per 100, 000 of the population
  • Ireland: 9 per 100, 000 of the population

Irish Attitudes to Refugees

Irish attitudes to refugees are represented in the following Infographic from Newstalk radio based on data research by RED C in a poll conducted with 1038 Irish people. The Newstalk radio poll was commissioned in late 2015 to assess public response to the Irish Government proposal to accept 4,000 refugees into the country as Ireland’s contribution to the EU refugee intake plan.

Newsalk RED C Poll Graphic

ERN Action in Latin America

In Cochabamba, Bolivia, the Christian Brothers (Hermanos Cristianos Latinamericanos) offer a service for street children in the city. The service operates from the Centro Hermano Manolo. The Centre is named after a revered Christian Brother, Brother Nicky O’Brien, who worked for many years in Buenos Aires. A feature of the work there is the strong rights-based approach to the work with the children. This project has grown over the years and is now well-established.

Recently, two workers from the Centro Hermano Manolo , Jorge and Sandra, travelled recently to a child rights conference that was held in Guatemala. Brother Eddie McArdle has provided an English-language translation of their report which follows  below.

It is amazing that work begun just a few short years ago has blossomed into a substantial rights-based project for vulnerably children. May their work continue to prosper.


Since the plane arrived in Guatemala City, the welcome and the attention of the organizers made us feel at home; delegations came to share their experiences on the work they are doing.

We learned mechanisms and procedures used by the UN to protect human rights and how to implement the recommendations regarding the Universal Periodic Review along with the Committee on Children’s Rights. Also, the role of civil society in monitoring the recommendations made by the U.N. to the country as well as suggestions, awareness campaigns and meetings with representatives of public institutions responsible for specific rights (education, top child welfare, protection, participation).

Workshops were held in small groups. The first was to contrast a report on the rights of children with the reality of the country, each group was composed of members from each country, who shared and enriched their understanding of the situation of children living in that country. One of the curiosities was that in Guatemala working children do not study because of economic restrictions or may just study primary.

How to monitor the UPR recommendations? was the title of the second workshop, which was to review the recommendations of the State Parties to the UN. This work was done by country and Bolivia had 5 participants (3 form the Marist Family and 2 from Centro Hermano Manolo. The recommendations were analysed by the Bolivian delegation regarding punishment in schools, improving infrastructures; State support for working children and the trafficking of children.

On the last day, after considering the rights of children and the reality of the country, each delegation prepared an action plan which consists of a series of procedures for greater involvement of the civil society in terms of a specific recommendation. The procedure follows this process: Preparation of report to the Human Rights Council, training and staff training, awareness, and advocacy. We worked on an action plan based on the children’s right to integrity in the schools, both physical and psychological.

For us, it was a great experience to share and learn from people who are qualified and immersed in issues of Human Rights and the UN. Also, to hear the testimony of Guatemalans who have managed to influence the P.I.N.A. Law (Law on Protection of Children and Adolescents), as well as NGOs seeking the active participation of children to prepare reports according to their realities.

Each training session is an opportunity to learn and share!!!

Angela Merkel

In the early months of 2015 the situation of migrants and refugees seeking to enter Europe by land and sea had become increasingly precarious. Since the abandonment of the EU Mare Nostrum programme in 2014, a programme which the Italian Navy believed had saved over 120, 000 lives, the number of people drowning in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea was increasing week on week. In May 2015, in response to public opinion, the Irish Naval Service became involved in a new EU initiative to rescue migrants and refugees, mainly those travelling from the Libyan coastal route. Later, it became evident that even larger numbers were seeking to enter Europe by way of the short sea route from Turkey. In total, 137,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in the first six months of 2015.Throughout the Summer months this mass-migration of people had become a major issue for European public opinion.

Death of Aylan Kurdi

The death of the Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found on a beach at Bodrum, Turkey, following the capsizing of their boat on September 2nd, 2015, shocked public opinion across Europe. From that point on the plight of migrants and refugees seeking a new life in Europe became a major issue for public opinion, leading eventually to pressure on governments to participate in measures to alleviate the situation, including the free-flow of migrants to their desired destination. This mean, in practice, the virtual abandonment of the Dublin regulations applying to asylum seekers.

Angela Merkel, a Courageous Woman

As the nightly news broadcasts focused on the thousands massed on the borders of Macedonia, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia, there was a dramatic intervention from Germany, the preferred destination for the majority of the migrants and refugees.
Angela Merkel in a speech to the Bundestag on September 24th, 2015 spoke in favour of welcoming refugees to Germany in large numbers.

What was particularly influential in the Merkel speech was her enlarging of the issue beyond the Syrian crisis to the wider global context:

Speech to the Bundestag

At the moment almost 60 million refugees can be counted around the globe – this figure alone clearly illustrates the fact that we are not facing a German challenge, nor a European challenge, but a global challenge, that every region, every country, every political level, and every institution will have to help to resolve

When we speak of the ‘current refugee crisis’, it is this new and unprecedented mass migration of people that we have in mind. While at the moment our focus is on refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and the Middle East, the ‘old crisis’ of African migration to Europe will continue with ever larger numbers seeking access to a better life elsewhere.

Angela Merkel is one of those rare politicians, one who is prepared to take a principled position, even at the risk of the position being unpopular. She richly deserves to be Time magazine’s Person of the Year. We learn from her the difference between being a person of character whose moral judgments are based on principles rather than on a calculation on the basis of ‘what can I get away with her’. Angela Merkel has a deep sense of her own vocation to public life and to the promotion of the common good. As the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and someone who knew the emptiness of materialistic socialism, she has allowed her deep Christian convictions to inform her public actions.

On a related note, the TIME magazine cover shows a painting of Angela Merkel by Irish artist Colin Davidson from Northern Ireland. The story of the painting makes for interesting reading. See it here.

We can learn a lot from her.

Human Rights and Extreme Poverty

Emily Logan, CEO Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission speaking at the launch of the ATD/FI Human Rights and Extreme Poverty Handbook in Dublin
Emily Logan, CEO Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission speaking at the launch of the ATD/FI Human Rights and Extreme Poverty Handbook in Dublin

For many the area around Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1 is unfamiliar territory. In its day it was once of the premier locations in Dublin city, the discrete 18th century urban setting for Ireland’s rural elite who came to the city to participate in the social rounds of what was called ‘the season’. Today, it is an area that has seen better days. There are the offices of organisations who can’t afford to be anywhere else. There are the flats where Irelands newcomers can find a home if they are lucky. It is also the location of Ozanam House where Saint Vincent De Paul have been working with poor people for over a hundred years. There are photographs from of Daughters of Charity passing out shoes from its steps to the poor people of the area.

A Different Kind of Book Launch

On December 8th, Ozanam House was the location for the launch of a handbook, Making Human Rights Work for People living in Extreme Poverty, the work of collaboration between [ATD Fourth World] and Franciscans International. The project was assisted by other organisations, including the Christian Brothers and Edmund Rice International.

The location was colourful and welcoming. There were simple hand-crafted murals and posters. The amplification system creaked and the chairs were uncomfortable. For sure, this was not the kind of book launch that the corporate world could ever endorse: wrong location, wrong people, absence of media, and, well, not likely to make the Nine O’Clock News. And, on top of that, we were expected to engage in a World Café process about engagement with poor people. Media hacks would be heading for the door!

Poor People can claim their Human Rights too

The people who came were the volunteer workers whose lives are committed on a daily basis to being with poor people, the grassroots organisations, the newcomers and the poor people themselves. They came to support one of the very first unambiguous engagement of the human rights community with poor people. Too often, human rights can be the territory of the powerful: the states, the NGOS, the academics, the human rights lawyers, and sometimes, the ideologues.

It was encouraging to hear in a human rights setting the language of respectful inclusion, the admission of failure and the openness to doing things differently. Because that is what the launch of this new handbook was about. It was an event that listened to Brother Rodrigo Peret when he said on the launch video: “Human rights we don’t claim on our knees!”

If there was one message that embedded itself in our consciousness from the presentations of the panelists it was that poverty, especially extreme poverty, is a profound violation of human rights. That is new language and deeply subversive of the understanding of human rights among western liberal elites. It is the voice of poor people saying “Human rights is not just for you; we are claiming this space for ourselves as well.”

It is Time to Listen and Hear

Emily Logan, CEO of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, was very positive in her comments on the ATD/FI Handbook. She acknowledged that human rights language is often viewed as the property of the establishment, academic and legal. It is time for poor people to reclaim this language as their own.

Sometimes, as Bruno from ATD said, we tend to see see poor people ‘as too complicated to work with’. This perception gets passed on in the media DNA shaping a negative public perception of poor people. From this ‘poison’, as he called it, evolve a host of toxic myths that shape attitudes and beliefs. It is time for human rights to really engage with poor communities and to listen to poor people with respect.

The Challenge

Making Human Rights Work for People in Extreme Poverty is one of those rare books, at once practical, inspirational and challenging. It challenges all of us. To those of us who say, ‘the poor are too complicated’, it forces us to think again. To those who say all they need is love, it forces us to engage with poor people in ways that enable them to say, “We can do this ourselves.” To those who say that poverty is a fact of life, it confronts us with a clear statement that poverty is a violation of human rights. To those who say we are powerless to do anything, the handbook challenges us to think about simple, practical steps that can be taken.

For me, it is the voice of Brother Rodrigo OFM from Brazil that rings in my ears. In his heavily accented English, with the gaping holes in the brickwork of his dilapidated barrio dwelling in the background, he calls out to us: “We are not invisible. We, too, belong to the city.”

Let’s make human rights work for Rodrigo and all poor people.