Welcoming the Stranger – Learning from the Developing World and Malta

In an Irish Examiner Opinion Piece (May 24, 2016) marking the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, the CEO of Oxfam Ireland, Jim Clarken, said that Europe could learn a lot from poorer nations welcoming refugees. He cited Tanzania’s solidarity and generosity towards refugees.

Mr. Clarken highlighted the experience of Kagunga, a tiny border village along Lake Tanganyika, which received more than 50,000 Burundian refugees in May 2015 – “the equivalent of the entire urban population of Waterford landing at Cobh in Co Cork over the course of four weeks.”

Most of the refugees were taken to Nyarugusu camp, already home to 65,000 Congolese refugees, where Oxfam and other humanitarian agencies work with the Tanzanian authorities to ensure the refugees are welcomed and cared for.

“Despite the challenges faced by developing countries,” Clarken stated, “they get on with it, matter of fact, providing a place of refuge. The numbers dwarf the efforts of wealthier regions — developing countries host over 86% of the world’s refugees…”

According to UNHCR statistics, the smallest country in the European Union, Malta – with a population one-tenth that of Ireland’s (418,000); and a tiny landmass and a GDP twenty-times smaller than Ireland’s – accepted 3185 applications from refugees and asylum-seekers in 2012, five-times more than Ireland.

Malta has a long tradition of welcoming the stranger. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke recounts the dramatic story of St. Paul’s shipwreck on the Mediterranean Sea, close to a small island, onto which 276 crew, prisoners and guards, managed to reach safety. In a moving tribute to the islanders, St. Luke recounts:

“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” (Acts 28: 1-2)

The Irish authorities have much to learn from little Malta. While over 6000 beds were pledged at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015 by the Irish public, and the Government pledged to accept up to 4000 refugees, to date only 10 have arrived.

In a submission to the Oireachtas Housing and Homeless Committee (16 May 2016), the Irish Refugee Council made eight recommendations to dramatically improve the experience of refugees and asylum-seekers in Ireland.  These included:

  • The right to work and become self-supportive, facilitating greater access to housing and labour markets when official papers are received;
  • The involvement of local communities in the integration process from the outset.

Currently, refugees and asylum-seekers are housed in 35 privately run Direct Provision (DP) and Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROC) across 16 counties.

In March 2015 the Department of Justice and Equality’s ‘Reception and Integration Agency’ (RIA), revealed that 1500 people had been in Direct Provision for more than three years, while 600, some 13.4% of the refugees and asylum-seekers population, have been in Direct Provision for more than 8 years.

Under the Direct Provision system, refugees and asylum-seekers are entitled to €19.10 per person, per week, an allowance that has remained static since April 2000. As well as highlighting the unfairness of the system, especially in making the transition into Irish society extremely difficult through the complexity of the Social Welfare system and the inability to save deposits generally required by landlords for rental accommodation on a €19.10 per week allowance, the Council also stated:

“Even without suffering from the residual effects of institutional living, transitioning on from DP is fraught with difficulty. The Department of Social Protection (DSP) has been shown to be a labyrinthian complex institution for many social welfare claimants and recipients never mind when you have not been properly informed about how to navigate the system and English is not your first language…”

Read Irish Examiner article.

Irish Refugee Council Submission.



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