Migrants: we need to know what to do



Migration has the potential to make us like the old woman in the nursery rhyme who lived in a shoe, with so many children she didn’t know what to do. Confusion reigns, as she woman struggles to manage and the rhyme has a nasty ending.

Some clear thinking needs to happen here to avoid things turning nasty, as they are beginning to do, over migration. The trouble is that we tend to get hoist on opposing petards which don’t help to see things clearly. On one side there is the sentimental Ireland of the welcomes view, where we shouldn’t turn people seeking refuge away. Forty million migrants of Irish origin have populated the world and we have obligations to take in refugees fleeing the Ukraine under the EU Temporary Directive.

On the other side is nimbyism, with protestors claiming lack of consultation and agitating over the supposed threat posed by refugees to local jobs and to the safety of women and children. Given the mounting level of protest, it looks as if the threat to social cohesion posed by incoming refugees, we were warned about, is becoming all too true.

Looking at some facts might help to put the pieces of the migration puzzle together more realistically and find solutions. Far from being a threat, study after study shows that migration benefits countries, expanding the labour force and boosting the economy.

The key factor for positive outcomes, though, is employment, so why tie migrants up in red tape and regulations which stop them working? Figures vary, but at present it can take around 15 to 18 months or nine to 10 in priority cases, for IP (International Protection) applicants claiming asylum  to be processed. Applicants get labour market access permission six months after they get a blue application card. Meantime, their weekly allowance is €38.80.

Ukrainians (Beneficiaries of Temporary Protection) — a total of 137,000 may be with us by the end of the year — are allowed to work here immediately but some have difficulty getting their qualifications recognised. If not working they are entitled to job seekers payment of €220 a week.

We need more people. Ireland has full employment and there are skill shortages with, according to OECD figures for September 2022, some 331,000 vacancies. Workers are urgently needed in sectors like IT, building, retail (where according to Jobs.ie there are 455 jobs waiting to be filled,) nursing and care and hospitality. So why prevent migrants from using their skills?

We are living up to our reputation as Ireland of the welcomes, taking in more refugees proportionately than all but a handful of European countries and also being more generous with entitlements. There was a 330% increase in IP applicants with more than 15,000 coming here in 2022. Many are economic migrants, looking for better living standards, with the greatest number coming from Nigeria and  Georgia (nearly two thirds of these applications are rejected in the first instance), rather than those escaping persecution like the Somalis where applications are 100% successful. Maybe we need to limit our generosity and help those most in need rather than looking like a soft touch; bring entitlements in line with other countries and do more clamping down on migrants arriving without documentation.

Integration should be vital piece of the picture but where migrants are ‘othered’ rather than being included it can create problems especially in deprived locations. Most communities are welcoming. Wouldn’t it help to have some community development officers on the ground to help vulnerable arrivals integrate with inclusion in activities language classes, sport and social activities?

Then there’s the accommodation crisis, where the Irish ‘shoe’ is at bursting point. The system which has so far coped with the emergency is breaking down. Refugees are being left on the streets and major shortfalls threaten as contracts for bed spaces may not be renewed.

Perhaps we need a task force rather than making this the responsibility of one Government ministry (Department of Children, Equality, Disability Integration and Youth,) with more imaginative thinking. What about utilising empty convents and monasteries, deconsecrated churches, unused or underused office space. How about  business sponsorship for accommodation or creating a special  programme to allow refugees to work on building prefabs or short-term housing.

One thing we won’t do is to follow the Brits’ example and scare off refugees by proposing to send them to Rwanda  or allow anyone to copy the old show woman who beat her children.

She did, though, have beds to send them to …


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