Report Launch: Equality issues for Refugee families in Ireland under Community Sponsorship
As the Irish Government continues to grapple with accommodation shortages for individuals and families fleeing conflict and persecution and protests fuelled by far-right fearmongering grab media attention, it is important to recognise the work being carried out in local communities around Ireland to welcome and support refugees.
Since 2019 volunteer groups have been involved in supporting resettlement under the new ‘Community Sponsorship’ programme. Some of the benefits and challenges of the programme are highlighted in a new research report, which points to some specific equality issues which can arise under the programme and how such issues can be managed.
The research led by Dr Karen Smith from the UCD School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, University College Dublin in collaboration with Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre provides insight into the valuable support provided by volunteers but highlights the importance of ensuring that appropriate supports, safeguards and provision for monitoring are in place as the programme develops.
All participants in the study recognised a need to ensure that the refugees received adequate and accessible information about their rights in Ireland, including information about how to raise complaints and how to report racist incidents.
Among the key equality issues identified in report was barriers to gaining employment, including some specific barriers faced by women refugees who wear hijab. Report author Dr. Karen Smith noted that the research highlighted “the need to challenge and change preconceptions about Muslim women…” commenting that “contra to stereotyped assumptions about gender norms in Muslim families, female refugees who participated in the study were eager to engage in paid work but reported challenges in accessing appropriate training and employment supports.”
Commenting on the positives of the programme Dr. Smith said that the findings indicate that “…the individuals and families admitted to Ireland under the programme highly valued the support they received from volunteers in Ireland. In some cases, they regarded the volunteers as their “family”.
“At the same time there was recognition by study participants that the relationship between volunteers and refugees was complex and unequal underlining the importance of ongoing support for and oversight of the work done by volunteers.”
Nasc CEO Fiona Hurley commented that “Thousands of families across Ireland are now hosting refugees in their homes outside of the Community Sponsorship programme. This report, although limited to the Community Sponsorship Programme, raises important considerations particularly in respect of equality issues and unequal power dynamics that are very relevant beyond the formal Community Sponsorship Programme.”
Another key issue raised in the report was housing. Resettled families spoke of the insecurity and high cost of the private rented sector in Ireland, and their fears about how they would source alternative accommodation in the event of their current tenancy ending. While these issues are not unique to people with refugee status, the report noted that this group face some unique challenges to accessing private rented housing due to specific factors including discrimination on the grounds of race and/or ‘housing assistance’ status.
“For newcomers to Ireland hoping to find peace and stability after what might have been years of living in dangerous and precarious conditions, the reality of the housing crisis in Ireland has come as an unpleasant shock,” added Dr Smith.
The Community Sponsorship programme was established in Ireland in 2019. It offers a means for ordinary citizens in countries like Ireland to extend practical solidarity to families with refugee status arriving in their countries.
Under the programme, community groups come together to source rental housing and provide material and practical resettlement assistance to the refugee families for the first two years after their arrival in Ireland.
The government target was to resettle 42 families in 2021 and 70 families in 2022 under the programme. These targets form part of a wider commitment to resettle 2,900 refugees in in 2019 – 2023 under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP). To date the main focus of the IRPP has been on Syrian nationals.
The full report is available from:
Fiona Hurley 087 104 3284
The report is being launched online on Monday December 5th at 3pm. Speakers at the launch include report authors Dr. Karen Smith and Angham Younes who will present key findings from the report. There will also be contributions from John Harding (IRPP), Colm O’Gorman (Refugee Hub) and Fiona Hurley (Nasc)