Q&A: Migrant, refugee or asylum seeker?

Are the people fleeing crisis migrants, refugees or asylum seekers? And how will Ireland accommodate any new arrivals? Caroline O’Doherty answers the question you may be asking about the refugee crisis.

Migrants, refugees, asylum seekers. Who’s who?

A. Anyone who leaves their country of origin is a migrant but that doesn’t explain the circumstances of their departure.

A refugee is fleeing war and/or persecution. Under the UN Convention on Refugees, an officially recognised refugee must be afforded protection, access to services and the right to work in another convention country.

An asylum seeker is an applicant for refugee status in another country.

While their application is being processed, they have a right to protection but not to the freedoms that refugees have.

If they are determined not to have had a genuine need to leave their country, they can be deported.

The term ‘migrant’ was used a lot in the earlier days of this crisis, partly because of confusion over where people were coming from but mainly because EU leaders were reluctant to speak of refugees because of all the attendant responsibilities.

Q. Who’s coming here?

A mix. We’re taking 520 refugees from UN camps in countries bordering Syria, mainly Lebanon. The first 38 arrived in the last few weeks and 62 more will arrive shortly. This is the UN resettlement programme.

We’re also taking 3,500 of the tens of thousands of asylum seekers recently arrived in mainland Europe and stuck in reception centres and makeshift camps mainly in Greece, Italy and Hungary. This is the EU relocation programme. Most will be from Syria but some from Eritrea and Afghanistan.

When are they coming?

For the UN refugees, see above. As for the EU relocation people, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the first would arrive within weeks but firstly, groups of people have to be selected to come here by Department of Justice, EU and officials working on site in reception centres in fairly chaotic conditions.

Our stated priority is to take family groups and orphaned or otherwise unaccompanied children so there will have to be considerable sorting on the ground before anyone is brought here.

We may see small numbers within weeks but arrivals will be phased over two years.

Where will they live?

The Department of Justice, Irish Red Cross, Office of Public Works and a myriad of other state, voluntary and commercial bodies are working on an answer.

The UN refugees are being put up in the former Hazel Hotel in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, but it only has 20 bedrooms so it can’t cater for them all .

Besides, the idea is not to corral people away from the rest of society but to find them homes and integrate them into local communities once they are familiarised with Ireland, the support structures on offer and the language. Ideally, that should happen in a few months but sourcing homes will be a challenge.

The EU relocation people are to be accommodated in what Ms Fitzgerald calls “emergency reception and orientation centres” while their applications for refugee status are processed.

Hotels, guesthouses and other premises — former army barracks have been mentioned — are all to be looked at. These will run on the same basis as the direct provision centres in use for the 8,000 asylum seekers already in Ireland who have come here independently from dozens of countries. Once an asylum seeker gets refugee status, they will be free to move out into the community to try to find a home and work.

Hasn’t direct provision been widely condemned as inhumane?

Yes. By the Government’s own working group which said it should be done away with. Ms Fitzgerald has said the new arrivals will go through the asylum process within weeks so their time in direct provision will be limited.

Will this plan work?

We’ve done it before with the Vietnamese, Bosnians and Kosovars.

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