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.

The Great Story of Migration

Out of Africa

Our story as a human species is a story of migration. We came out of Africa some 60,000 years ago from the place where Homo Sapiens first evolved around 200,000 years ago. According to the fossil record this is now understood to be a place called Omo Kibish in Ethiopia.

The story tells us that we left Africa between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago, probably due to some significant climatic shift such as a sudden cooling in the Earth’s climate. Palaeontology suggests that during that climatic event the number of humans dropped to fewer than 10,000. We were barely hanging on to our tenure on the planet.

Exodus

The first group of Homo Sapiens crossed the Mandab Strait, separating what is today Yemen from Djibouti and headed along the coast first to India and then all the way to South-East Asia and Australia. Another group, about 50,000 years ago headed inland to Asia and from there colonised northern Asia and then Europe.

Some 20,000 years ago some of these early people arrived in Ireland and England. During the last Great Ice Age they disappeared completely leaving no trace. About 12,000 years ago the Mesolithic settlers arrived in these islands. In Ireland they settled along the northern coast and along the great inner lake in the Midlands.

It was the development of farming 10,000 years ago that led to the population explosion that eventually gave rise to empires, the great early migration voyages and the spread of Homo Sapiens to the ends of the earth.

The Great Western Migration Story

Another great migration began 500 years ago with the European voyages of exploration and the colonisation by European settlers (the first illegal immigrants) in different parts of the world. Between 1880 and 1930, over 27 million immigrants arrived in the United States, mainly from Italy, Germany, Eastern Europe, Russia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, and Sweden. in 1869, for example, the number of immigrants arriving in the ports of the United States was 352,569. Source: The American Annual Cyclopaedia, 1869.

The Contemporary Story

Migrant_Routes_ Mediterranean 2016_small

The current migration story is just one more episode in that millennia-long history of movement, conquest and settlement. Our contemporary story began after World War II with internal movement of peoples within Europe. To a lesser extent this proves has continued with labour mobility within Europe following the Nice Treaty and the accession of new members of the European Union. In 2013, for example, there were around 7 million EU citizens — or 3.3% of the EU’s total labour force — working and living in a member country other than their country of citizenship. That trend of internal migration has deepened and continued, to the benefit of the host countries.

In terms of sheer scale, however, the present numbers of migrating peoples around the world is unlike anything that we have seen before. So far this year (2016) almost 200,000 people have arrived in Europe from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The story of migration is a human story. It is in our DNA. Huge human, cultural and economic benefits have occurred because of it. The UK National Health Service, for example, the biggest employer in Europe, could not function with the presence of health workers from India and Asia. The challenge for governments and international organisations is to manage this movement of peoples humanely and wisely. So far, we’ve not done a good job as we stumble from crisis to crisis.

We hope for a new story of migration that will place values of compassion, care and understanding at the heart of European policies. Is it too much to ask?

Listen to some TED talks about Migration

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

Creating Signs of Hope for Syria

Global Call for Acts of Solidarity and Days of Prayer and Fasting for Syria
In solidarity of all victims of this brutal war
15 March 2016: 5 years since the start of the protests

Pax Christi International is calling all people of good will to organise acts of solidarity and days of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria between 15 and 20 March 2016. We call on individuals and organisations to show solidarity with refugees and victims of war and violence and create signs of hope that peace can come again in Syria.

In March 2011, Syrian civilians started non-violent demonstrations to demand basic freedoms and rights. The regime’s extreme repression led to the militarisation of the protests, evolving to a systemic war that has affected the whole region.

In the five years since, more than 250.000 people have been killed, more than 13.5 million people inside Syria are in need of emergency relief and 6.5 million civilians are internally displaced, including hundreds of thousands in besieged cities, deprived of food and basic services. Moreover, more than 4.6 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries and the wider region.

The conflict in Syria has also worsened the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Syria and Iraqi refugees living in the region. Their plight must not be forgotten. We are also in solidarity with the thousands of civil society activists in Syria. Despite scarce resources and limited solidarity, they continue their struggle for justice and are intensely engaged in humanitarian relief efforts.

This war has lasted too long and there is no perspective that it will end soon. The destruction of human lives and of a whole country must come to an end. We urge for the respect for human lives. The attacks against civilians and the bombardments need to stop, and the sieges should be lifted. The protection of civilians is at the forefront. Talks need to be intensified!

Organising an act of solidarity or day of fasting or prayer is also an occasion to meet with refugees in your own community. Please share your events and stories and photos with us via Facebook or Twitter (#HopeforSyria). In the course of the coming weeks we will provide you with update information so that you can prepare your actions.

Whatever resources you may have are welcome. Please share them with us. We will add them to https://hopeforsyria.wordpress.com/ that will be created on 18 February, 2016.

Pawns in the Game

The world is a cruel place and in these times it may be at its cruelest. When we think of our recent past, we tend to think of World War I and World War II as difficult passages for humanity. But we may well be entering upon one of the cruelest at the present time.

Is there a new Holocaust on the way? Maybe not in the planned organised bureaucratic manner of the Nazi regime. But it may happen in different parts of the world through the sheer impotence and neglect of the international community.

Let us focus on the Middle East right now. God knows how many thousands of Palestinians have spent most of their lives in camps of one kind or another. Add to this number the flood of refugees fleeing Syria at the moment. Last year we believe that one million refugees fled to Europe seeking a better life.

This year, things are shaping up to be a lot worse. Just this week we had new Russian air attacks on Syrian MSF hospitals in the rebel-held areas. Turkey is already invading northern Syria by stealth intent on wiping out the Kurdish opposition there.

But what is Russia up to just now? In Geneva there are diplomatic set-piece talks-about-talks going on. A supposed ceasefire that no one intends honouring is being arranged. Meanwhile Russian jets target hospitals. Yesterday, a school and MSF hospital was destroyed in Azaz in Northern Syria. And Assad assures us that he has no intention of engaging in any ceasefire until he has won back the whole of Syria.

A well-informed US military analyst, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a lecturer at the Catholic University of America, has concluded that together Syria and Russia are intent on destroying the Syrian opposition in all its forms, moderate and extreme, without distinction. Once that is achieved they will then turn their guns on ISIS. At that point the United States will be ‘invited’ to join in the fight against ISIS. Cumulative errors in the Middle East have fatally damaged the US capacity to act.

Putin will not tolerate weak versions of Western democracy in Syria or elsewhere. See this New Statesman article here. Chechnya and the Ukraine are the models for Russian interventions. It involves the cynical deployment of overwhelming force with the consent and support of local regimes.

Who are the pawns in this game? They are the millions, yes, millions who will be denied life and basic human rights because of Russian imperial ambitions, American weakness and European lack of courage.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst. Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand;. Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The poor, the weak, the sick, the children will be the fodder for the new holocaust.

The Red Cross and Migration

Last week I went to see the film, Brooklyn, based on a novel of the same name by Irish writer, Colm Toibín. It was at once both enjoyable and moving. For someone who grew up in 1950s Ireland the representation of the Ireland of that period is pitch-perfect. On the other hand, this is not a Frank McCourt a rain, gloom, and my-awful-Irish-Catholic-oppressive-childhood narrative. If anything, it portrays an Ireland, which by today’s standards (as we witness the presence of gangland crime in our cities), was a very safe place to grow up. What the film focuses from the outset was the limited range of life-options open to people at that time. People very often had to leave.

It is a tribute to the quality of Irish education at that time that many Irish people could leave Ireland to go to the United States and progress their education there very rapidly. Eilis, Saoirse Ronan’s character, is able to go to college to pursue an accountancy degree within her first year of employment.

Many of today’s migrants are similarly well-educated. A high proportion of migrants coming to our shores today have third-level degrees.

Our century has witnessed several waves of mass migration. The first took place in central Europe after World War I when populations resettled after the creation of many new States, especially following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

A second similar mass dislocation of populations took place in Europe following World War II. It began with the rise of Hitler’s Germany and the departure of Jews and others to other countries to escape Nazi anti-Semitic violence and genocide. Later, mass evacuations took place as people sought to escape from the war. Following the war, as the borders of Europe were redefined millions of people were on the move as whole populations were relocated within the new European borders.

Hungarian Refugees at a refugee camp near Limerick city in 1956
Hungarian Refugees at a refugee camp near Limerick city in 1956

Following the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary we in Ireland welcomed Hungarian refugees with open arms. Their experience in Ireland was not entirely a happy one. Like today’s refugees, they had ambitions to go elsewhere. The United States was their preferred destination. Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin intervened with the Irish government to assist their passage onward to the United States. Some however remained in Ireland to marry and raise families. The Hungarian refugee experience provides a salutary lesson that good will is not enough when it comes to welcoming newcomers to Ireland.

One organisation that was particularly active throughout this whole period was the Red Cross. National societies of the Red Cross have always been to the fore in assisting refugees and migrants. In 1995 the International Red Cross movement at its General Assembly highlighted “the restrictive measures taken by host countries and the expression of racism, xenophobia and discrimination among some of them” and requested National Societies “to consider action in favour of migrant populations” and invited them to “encourage migrants to take part in their activities”. From that point, the International Red Cross has been prominently active in the provision of assistance to migrants and refugees.

It is, therefore, understandable that in 2015, in response to the Europe-wide migration crisis, many governments, including the Irish government, assigned to national Red Cross societies a lead role in coordinating efforts on behalf of migrants. We can be justifiably proud of their activities.

Currently, the Irish Red Cross is coordinating the provision of accommodation for Syrian refugees arriving in Ireland. We wish them every success and pledge our support in this important humanitarian undertaking.

See this interesting article by Scott Boldt in the Belfast magazine Hub on the topic of migration. Scott is known to many in the world of education in Ireland because of his research work. He was associated for a long time with the Marino Institute of Education in Dublin. Today, he works with a variety of humanitarian agencies in Belfast.