Our obligations to immigrants: Plans must be realistic to succeed

It is all too easy to conflate one of the great social crimes of our age — having the temerity to be judgemental — with one of the great human tragedies of the age— mass immigration — and criticise the vote taken last week by a Clare community. 

Lisdoonvarna voted two-to-one to reject a proposal from the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) to move 115 asylum seekers to a local hotel. 

That conflation, however, would be wrong, even if Ireland is not immune to the toxic anti-immigrant sentiment gathering momentum in so many European countries. 

The office that imagined that a community of around 300 souls might feel confident about assimilating 115 asylum seekers from different, often troubled backgrounds is where criticism should be directed. 

This is confirmed by the fact the community said it would welcome asylum seekers but fewer than 115 — 38% of the town’s population. That seems a fair, honourable response.

That, despite the Lisdoonvarna vote, the RIA said it will accommodate 30 people each month until the accommodation centre is full, hardly augers well for the project. 

That bureaucrats’ hubris may not prevail, as the hotel owner, where the unfortunate refugees were to be housed, has said he will not proceed with the arrangement if the community objects.

However, the RIA’s intention to ride roughshod over local democracy is as unacceptable as it is dangerous. 

Impositions like this, seemingly without any meaningful consultation with the community, may drive otherwise sane and decent citizens into the arms of xenophobic extremists. 

Assimilation of immigrants is one of the pressing issues of our time and that a State agency should make proposals that would make that objective even more difficult is disheartening and must be challenged.

The RIA is wrong in this instance, but the agency cannot be held accountable for our poor response to the immigration crisis and the impact it is having on frontline EU countries bearing the brunt of it. 

The recent court ruling striking down the ban on asylum seekers working is just one indication of this; there are many others. 

We all know we must do better and offer sanctuary to more of those in genuine need, even if we are struggling to deal with a domestic housing crisis. 

This is a rich, well-resourced society and we are failing to meet our obligations on immigration — or housing — in a way that suggests we are happy to wallow in the victimhood our past allows, without helping others avoid a similarly grim fate today. 

This seems the worst, coldest kind of hypocrisy.

Today, Caroline O’Doherty reports from Bidi Bidi in northern Uganda, the world’s largest official refugee camp, home to 287,480 people who have fled South Sudan’s latest cycle of slaughter. 

Less than two years ago the site was empty bushland but now it is home to a desperate, uprooted population larger than Galway’s. 

Unsurprisingly, Uganda is overwhelmed. 

We must quickly find a way to make the Lisdoonvarnas of Ireland more relevant to the Bidi Bidis of this world or else, if this is not being too judgemental, we are complicit with the evil forces that make refugee camps with a population approaching 300,000 necessary in the first place.


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