Launch of UNHCR report ‘Towards a new beginning: Refugee Integration in Ireland’ 3 March 2015, Mansion House, Dublin

Speakers at the launch were UNHCR Ireland director Sophie Magennis, Minister of State at the Dept of Justice Aoghán Ó Riordáin, report author Diana Gouveia, and two refugees, Mustafa Shirzi (Afghanistan) and Nadia Said (Somalia), the latter two expressing gratitude to Ireland for their successful integration. In the audience were mostly refugees (several Syrians commended for ‘creating a vibrant community’…), NGO interns, doctoral students, but very few activists.

The report (Towards a New Beginning: Refugee Integration in Ireland), based on interviews with 71 refugees, recommends ‘best practices’ in the areas of active citizenship, employment, housing, media participation, English language ‘training’, access to information. It recommends shorter stay in the direct provision system, but not its abolition or ending deportations.

The Minister said ‘no asylum seeker wants to be in the DP system’, stressing that the Working group aims to improve the system and that integration is ‘a complex process which requires time’. His general tone was congratulatory, particularly in his boast that Ireland does not have far right parties (it doesn’t need them, it has a government, says I), and his delight in the multiculturality of Ireland which was ‘so boring and monocultural’ during his youth. He highlighted the role of sport in promoting integration but said that integration is ‘about much more than antiracism’…

Magennis stressed the need to reduce the stay period in DP centres (max 6-9 months) but also the need to help people ‘reintegrate’ in their countries of origin (after deportation, I suppose…)

There was no Q and A, so I spoke to the Minister and Magennis afterwards. The Minister confirmed there will be a new centre for single female asylum seekers in Killarney (as was reported to me by AkiDwA); when I said it was very isolating, he said Kerry people would not agree that they are isolated. When I asked him about the possibility of closing the DP centres, his tone was one of ‘I couldn’t agree with you more…’ asking what alternatives I was proposing.
Me: give people already in the system the right to remain
O’R: and what about new applicants?
Me: give them rent allowance and allow them to work and live in the community
O’R: but I worry about them becoming homeless…
Me: meanwhile, private commercial companies are making huge profits at asylum seekers’ expense
O’R: I couldn’t agree with you more…
We were not getting very far, but it was clear that he was focusing on ‘the new legislation’ (the so-called ‘single procedure’ whereby asylum seekers will have their requests for refugee status and other forms of protetion dealt with at the same time, highly criticised by refugees and their supporters), the Integration Strategy and the outome of the Working Group on Direct Provision.

I then asked Magennis why the UNHCR did not recommend closing the DP centres. She too ‘couldn’t agree with me more…’ but said that she was hopeful about the outcome of the Working Group (which she argued does have an asylum seeker component through the ‘Core Group of Asylum Seekers and Refugees’ – omitting to mention that this was the Irish Refugee Council’s ‘core group’); and about the new Integration Strategy and the new legislation. She also said that in 2014 the acceptance rate was 30%, closer to the EU average (referring me to Minister Fitzgerald’s answer to a Dáil question, which I will check). The UNHCR, she insisted, has been criticising Ireland for its past low acceptance rates but said things are changing. While in the past the ‘manifestly unfounded’ cases were fast tracked, now the ‘manifestly founded’ cases were prioritised: unaccompanied minors, older people, people fleeing extreme violence (noting the rise in Syrians who have been admitted as refugees). This needs to be checked. But she too would not be drawn on closing the centres.

Another glossy report by the UNHCR who ‘couldn’t agree more’ that something has to be done about the DP system, but, in full agreement with the government, it has no intention of demanding the closure of the DP system or the termination of the criminal transfer of public money to a bunch of profit making private companies.