Restrictions on reuniting refugees with loved ones are “creating mentally-ill children of the future”, senators have warned.

The bill on family reunification, spearheaded by Independent Senator Colette Kelleher, proposes allowing refugees to bring over their parents, grandparents, siblings or cousins.

Such reunification is restricted under existing laws where those aged 18 or over with loved ones cannot be united with members outside their nuclear family.

Senators with the Civil Engagement Group have campaigned on the bill with Oxfam Ireland, Nasc and the Refugee Council which last night received support of other parties in the Seanad.

Ms Kelleher said there had been 288 applications recently for family reunification but some were restricted by the International Protection Act 2015 which political parties want to overturn.

Under the current refugee programme, the Government has promised to welcome 4,000 refugees to Ireland and less than a third have, so far, arrived.

Ms Kelleher said she believed the current regime for family reunification would shortly face a Constitutional challenge and the Seanad Bill would allow Ireland lead the way.

Members of the Civil Engagement Group (from left) Lynn Ruane, Colette Kelleher and Frances Black. The new bill is supported by Oxfam Ireland, Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council.

Senator Alice Mary Higgins said previous legislation was rushed and refugees also had a limited window of 12 months to apply for unification with loved ones.

Meanwhile, Ms Kelleher in a report this week criticising the treatment of refugee children in centres, claimed the lack of compassion in reuniting families was causing long-term damage.

“We are creating mentally ill children for the future,” said the Cork senator, a former CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland.

Africa Solidarity Ireland said orphans displaced by disease, famine or war were taking refuge in foreign countries but could not bring their extended family with them. There had been several cases here where families could not be reunited because of restrictions, the group said.

Muhammad, a Syrian refugee who has lived in Ireland for nine years, described how he was attempting to help his sisters and brothers to leave a war zone and come to Ireland. The security guard, who lives and works in Dublin, said his parents had been reunited with him here recently and could not believe they had access to running water and electricity.

“There are other Syrians here trying to be reunited with their family,” he said yesterday.


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