From teaching refugees about Irish history and society, to a census of Arabic speakers on campus, a grassroots group of staff and students at UCC is planning a range of initiatives to welcome arriving refugees in the coming months.
The new group, “UCC Friends of Refugees” will focus on education, activism and fundraising, and is open to students, staff, retired staff and former students.
Founder Gertrude Cotter, former CEO of refugee support group NASC, said the response so far has been overwhelming.
“I sent out an email about a month ago and had a huge response. The problem now is trying to coordinate it all. We have had meetings and have set up a steering committee and are trying to organise people to provide direct support to those who are arriving,” she said.
Ireland has committed to taking 4,000 people fleeing civil wars and conflict in the Middle East.
About 100 people are set to arrive in Cork and Kerry in the coming months, but it’s not clear exactly when, or where they will live.
Another member of the UCC group, Dr Piaras MacÉinrí, a lecturer in geography at UCC, said it’s difficult to make plans due to the lack of information from the government.
At a recent public meeting at UCC, he said the decision to take 4,000 refugees was a “drop in the ocean”.
He also criticised the Department of Justice for not revealing more information about where and how people will be accommodated.
“We have no idea who is coming here, when they are coming, what their needs will be or how they will be processed,” he said.
“Thousands of people from civil society are ready to help, but it seems the last thing to be considered will be how such people will be enabled to fit in here and what contribution might be made by civil society. It is very frustrating.”
A spokesperson for the justice department said the manager of the Irish resettlement programme had made presentations to NGOs in Cork and Kerry, in preparation for arrivals.
Resettlement differs from the normal legal process that asylum seekers must go through, in that those arriving under this scheme are already classified as refugees.
Ireland joined the UNHCR-led resettlement programme in 1998.
Under the scheme, refugees are accommodated temporarily by the Reception and Integration Agency, before being housed directly into the community. The resettlement programme has received 1,285 people from 27 countries since 2000.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved