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We can and must do more to help families fleeing conflict

Thursday, 3rd November, 2016 1:00am

Every day, we see catastrophic images of war - on our Facebook feeds, on the front page of our newspapers, on our nightly news. Cities most of us had never even heard of a few years ago now lie hollowed out and in ruins.

Every day, we see devastating images of dead and dying children. Children living in hovels in Calais or Dunkirk, desperate, freezing, waiting for an opportunity to be reunited with their loved ones. Masses of people fleeing violence, war, torture, starvation. Making dangerous sea crossings on small rubber dinghies, drowning before they can arrive to the safety of Europe.

Most of us see these images and want to do something to help. That is a testament to our humanity, our goodness and our belief that we can make a difference. It is a tribute to who we are and the Ireland our ancestors fought to make a reality.

With that thought in mind, take a moment to imagine if those children were your children. And those cities were your cities.

Syrians and other refugees living in Ireland also see those images, and despair. It is the city of their birth lying in ruins. They still have parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins fighting for survival that they desperately want to bring here to safety.

Nasc Ireland, a migrant organisation based in Cork, works with refugees and migrants living in Ireland to help bring their loved ones out of conflict zones to safety here.

Refugees have the right to bring their families to live with them – this is a human right protected by international human rights laws, European law and Irish law. Over the past two years alone, we have helped reunite over 137 families, rescuing men, women and children from war, violence and persecution.

In our 16 years of work reuniting families, we have had the joy of being there to see children reunited with parents, husbands reunited with wives, sometimes after many years apart. Years spent worrying for each other’s safety, perhaps not knowing where they are or if they are even alive.

We have also had to witness many moments of heartbreak, when family members aren’t found, when a parent dies before they can make the journey to Ireland. Or when visa applications are denied by the Department of Justice, even in cases where the need is great.

This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Nasc’s work. There is simply no reason, given the current situation in Syria, that Syrian-Irish citizens or legal residents here in Ireland should not be able to bring family members, including extended family members, out of conflict to safety here in Ireland.

The capacity is there in family reunification policy and legislation to allow the Department of Justice to act with positive discretion in the face of humanitarian emergencies. What is this if not a humanitarian emergency?

Nasc has recently launched a national campaign – Safe Passage – calling on the Irish Government to ease the normal criteria and exercise their positive discretion to reunite families fleeing conflict. It is in essence a humanitarian admission programme for families, allowing individuals here in Ireland to bring family members to safety, without having to rely on extortionate traffickers and people smugglers, or deadly boats and shipping containers.

It is safe, legal and brings families together. And it is easy to implement and puts no extra financial or other burdens on the State.

Our proposal includes a ‘sponsorship’ element, where members of Irish society – individuals, community groups, faith-based groups, anyone – can support a person’s family reunification application, both financially and socially. It is based on highly successful private sponsorship programmes from around the world – the oldest and most well-known of these has been operating in Canada for over 40 years.

It gives Irish people an opportunity to do something practical to help and support people fleeing conflict. It also gives the greatest opportunity to newly arrived refugees and migrants to integrate into Irish society, because they have a strong base of support right from the very beginning.

Last week, we met with Syrians and refugees from other countries currently in conflict, and with interested Irish people, to discuss our new Safe Passage campaign and to garner support for pushing the Irish government to make a change.

It was fantastic to see such positive support from all corners of Irish society – students, the elderly, church groups, community groups – wanting to help make a difference in people’s lives and bring families together in safety.

It was also a great opportunity for Irish people to meet some of the refugees and migrants that are now an integral part of the wider Cork community.

This is only the beginning. But we are very hopeful that with such strong support we will begin to see more family members able to safely and legally flee conflict and come to join their families here in Ireland.

If you would like to find out more about the Safe Passage campaign or are interested in getting involved, please visit the Nasc website at www.nascireland.org, ring 021-4503462 or email info@nascireland.org.

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