The average stay for the refugee families at the former 120-bed Clonea Strand Hotel near Dungarvan is 12-14 weeks.
Overlooking Clonea beach about two miles from Dungarvan, the centre received its first allocation of displaced Syrian families from Lebanon in December 2015, under the UNHCR protection programme.
Since then, more than 540 refugees, including approximately 90 children under the age of five, have passed through, from Lebanon and also from Greece under the UN/EU relocation programme.
“Our arrivals have mostly been Syrian but have also included Iraqis and Kurds,” said the centre’s manager, Mark Knowles.
David Stanton, minister of state for equality, immigration, and integration, opened the €50,000 crèche at Clonea Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre (EROC). The cost of converting the building was met by the Justice Department through EU funding.
Guests included Colm O’Connell of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme and Rose Murphy, CEO of the Waterford childcare committee.
Play is a fundamental learning tool for children, enabling them to develop their natural curiosity, creativity and social skills by which the flourish and form lifelong learning skills, said Ms Murphy.
A five-member committee, assisted by 25 hotel staff, manages the programme, which is co-ordinated by agencies such as Waterford childcare, the HSE, An Garda, the Education and Training Board, Tulsa, Barnardos, the Department of Social Protection, and local community volunteers.
As well as the crèche, the former hotel also currently provides facilities for primary level education for up to 25 older children.
The decision to provide an onsite crèche was taken after local childcare services were unable to provide sufficient places.
Mr Stanton said the dearth of crèche places in the wider community meant that “mothers of young children had endured restricted opportunity to participate in English language programmes run by local education training board”.
That dearth, he said, compromised their progress towards integration into Irish society.
The minister said he had been encouraged by the work of centres such as Clonea EROC, noting today’s refugee children, when properly nurtured and regarded, were tomorrow’s “engineers, doctors, politicians and so on”.