No migrant arrivals integrated here until December

A refugee carrying her baby boards a bus heading to Belgrade fromPresevo, southern Serbia. Picture: Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty

The first people coming to Ireland under the Government’s new refugee action plan will not move into local communities until December at the earliest.

Despite the outpouring of public support for refugees and growing calls for an urgent response to the crisis, no new arrivals are expected for some weeks.

When they come, they will have to be formally assessed to determine their eligibility to remain — a process that will at best take a further number of weeks.

The Government announced it will take an extra 2,900 people from makeshift camps in Europe, mainly in Greece and Hungary, as part of an EU-wide plan to share the responsibility of caring for the estimated 160,000 who have fled Syria and other conflict zones.

That is on top of the 600 the Government had already said several months ago that Ireland would take, none of whom have yet been brought here, and is also additional to the 520 formally recognised refugees the country is taking under a UN resettlement programme from UN camps in Lebanon.

Just 38 of the UN refugees have arrived here so far and while a further 62 are due shortly, the full commitment of 520 does not have to be fulfilled for two years.

The other 3,500 can also be brought here on a phased basis over a two-year period and it is expected only a few hundred will be on Irish soil by the end of the year.

The scramble to find accommodation and other supports for the new arrivals begins in earnest next Tuesday when the first meeting of a special taskforce takes place.

It will be led by the Department of Justice with representatives from other Government departments and some NGOs but primarily the Irish Red Cross which has been asked to co-ordinate offers of help, and accommodation from the public and local organisations.

The UN refugees, who already have full rights and freedom to work here, are being accommodated in the former Hazel Hotel in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, until more permanent homes can be found for them.

Those coming under the EU relocation plan will go into direct provision-style accommodation which Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has rebranded as “emergency reception and orientation centres”.

They will be classified as asylum seekers and be processed by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) until their eligibility for refugee status is confirmed.

Ministers were quick to stress that the infamous delays in the asylum process, which has left thousands of people in legal limbo in the widely criticised direct provision system for years here, would not be repeated with the new arrivals.

“We are going to fast-track the process,” Ms Fitzgerald said, stressing ORAC officials would be working with the knowledge that the majority would be from Syria and would have little difficulty proving their need for refugee status.

One possible hold-up, however, will be the strict security checks the new arrivals will be put through both before they are brought here and during the asylum process, to safeguard against any attempt by Isis to plant ‘sleepers’ among them.

“That is a possibility. That has been raised at European meetings that I have attended. Certainly we have to be very alert to the threat that ISIS pose in mainland Europe,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“This group will do anything to infiltrate so clearly the security concerns have to be taken into account.”

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