Today my first article appeared in the Opinion. I will share it with you here, as it doesn’t appear online.
Refugees, what to expect, what to do and how to carry on from here.
Ukraine is on our mind each day. Over 5000 refugees from the war-torn country have arrived in Ireland so far.
As the CEO of International Community Dynamics CLG trading as Recruit Refugees Ireland, I would like to share my insights with you.
The war in Ukraine has shocked us all. I will leave the reasons why and the political discussions to the people who have studied international relations. What concerns us here directly are the refugees arriving in Ireland, how we can help them and what to expect of the next few months or years.
Before the war in Ukraine, Ireland was somewhere at the bottom of European countries in the number of refugees that came to this country and the number of people seeking asylum here.
Suddenly, in the space of two weeks, we have seen the arrival of as many refugees as there currently are International Protection Applicants in Ireland. The response here and in other European countries has been tremendous.
Of course, this is just the beginning. How will the refugees adapt, and which lessons can we learn?
For the first time ever, the Temporary Protection Directive has been activated across Europe, meaning that refugees arriving from Ukraine will be given immediate protection, the right to remain in Ireland for at least one year with every right an Irish person has: medical care, right to work, social welfare, education.
Here is what to expect.
- There is a big work force arriving. And that has been noticed by some companies already. They are advertising vacancies and offering work to the refugees. I get calls every day from companies offering work.
- There will be an increased need for English classes. Some organisations offer these online, I would highly recommend Soar-Ed (www.saored.com), established by Doras, the refugee supporting NGO in Limerick, this is an online college especially geared to the need of refugees, they offer, among others, free online English classes.
- There will be a lot of confusion among the refugees about the Irish system, be it social welfare, schools, medical care, etc. there should be a dedicated service offering help top navigate these systems. The local development partnership offices are preparing for that, but will it be enough?
- There is a need for Ukrainian -English translators, to help refugees with filling out forms and just explaining everyday life.
- Some of the refugees arriving here are students. I was told about two medical students. One of them just had 3 months left before graduating, the other one is in third year. These people would love to continue their studies. They can’t afford international fees. There will be a need to offer scholarships to the students out there and to let them finish or continue their studies in Irish universities.
- Landlords that want to rent to refugees, will have to accept HAP and be registered with the PRTB, because most refugees will need assistance, and well, they should have done all that already.
- Thousands of people have offered accommodation, it would be a good idea for these kind hosts to be informed about the services offered, schools for children, maybe read up on Ukrainian culture and make sure people arriving get some privacy. They will be traumatised people who need time to adjust and have been through horrendous experiences.
The Polish charity Razem – together in Cork is offering help and advice to Ukrainians in the Ukrainian language. They can be reached online here: https://together-razem.org/en/together4ukraine/
The Places of Sanctuary movement of Ireland is organising a webinar for schools on how to deal with the influx of Ukrainian and other refugees in schools. It will take place on Wednesday, March 23rd from 10:30 to 11:30 AM. You can register for the webinar here, https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/297347693957
My own social enterprise Recruit Refugees Ireland is helping refugees with getting job-ready and with connecting them to employers. You can find us here: www.recruitrefugees.ie. We also offer support and workshops to both employers and refugees.
What can be learned?
As someone who has been working with refugees and International Protection Applicants living in direct provision since 2014, I have been very pleasantly surprised by the response to the crisis in Ukraine, both from the European population and the governments.
It does leave me with some unanswered questions.
War is terrible, dehumanising and traumatizing. People fleeing wars and conflict have been through horrendous trauma. That is true for everyone anywhere in the world.
It is true for the people fleeing Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, for the people in Palestine suffering daily violence in the apartheid regime, and any other place where lives are threatened, bombs explode, sexual violence is rampant and children are left without homes, schools and sometimes parents.
It has now become clear that direct and human response is possible. There is no higher number limit on the people we can accept.
I am in contact with a freelance translator in Afghanistan who worked with Western journalists until the Taliban took power. He was left behind by every Western country. He has been hiding in his home, was found, and beaten to pulp by the Taliban.
He managed to get to Pakistan, where he now waits for an appointment with the UNHCR to be given refugee status and some food and shelter.
I have a friend who was one of the 500,000 people who escaped a horrible regime in 2015, when his president started an illegal third term and protests were violently silenced. This man, who was one of the leaders of these protests had to run for his life. He came to Ireland because he could get here. He had to wait 3,5 years for refugee status and then another 2 years to be reunited with his family.
Why have we not offered the same protection to other people escaping war and conflict? Why do some have to wait nearly 6 years (sometimes longer) in dire circumstances, living in direct provision centres with people they don’t know, sharing rooms with them, being institutionalised for escaping violence? Why, in the case of Afghanistan, can we only offer protection to family members of those already here and not to others? Why was there a very small number of Syrians that could find safety here?
I hope we will learn lessons from this, that an alternative to direct provision is possible, that war is war, trauma is trauma, wherever you come from, and that it can happen to anyone.
My last question is a very uncomfortable one for many, but it needs to be asked. Is it because of the colour of their skin, that we let some in and others not? We need to do a lot of soul-searching and make urgent changes.
Let us all work together to give people escaping wars, conflict, and persecution, anywhere in the world, a safe place to find shelter and peace.
I am happy to come and talk to your organisations about how to help refugees. Just email me at email@example.com