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In Dublin 8, a group of volunteers called Dublin 8 Refugee Community Sponsorship (D8RCS) are at the start of a long and complicated process — arranging to bring a Syrian family over from a Lebanese refugee camp to live in their neighbourhood.
They’re participating in a scheme known as Community Sponsorship Programme Ireland, a government initiative which helps refugee families find a new life in an Irish community.
Rebecca Keatinge is a founding member of the group, and a solicitor working with asylum seekers and refugees. Through her work she has become familiar with the challenges that migrants face when coming through government schemes.
“This is a different way of supporting refugees,” says Keatinge.
So far, the group has raised over €5,500 of their €10,000 target, which will go towards paying rent, bills and other living expenses for the family when they arrive. Some volunteers say that raising the required funds is relatively easy, compared to their current biggest problem — finding suitable accommodation for the family in Dublin 8.
The scheme is a collaboration between the Irish government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Irish Refugee Council and locals in Dublin 8.
As well as a minimum of €10,000 in financial aid, there’s a list of criteria that the group must fulfill before the family moves over.
“You also have to develop a settlement plan and have all the support lined up in terms of health, education, access to social services,” says Keatinge.
Once that is in place, a family is selected from a refugee camp by UNHCR to move to the area where they are granted long-term residency.
But until then the community has no contact with the family.
According to a statement from the Department of Justice website, in order to qualify for the scheme refugees must be unable to return to their home country safely, and be at risk or have no prospects of integrating into the country where they are currently living.
Other responsibilities of the volunteers will include introducing resettled families to language resources and social and professional networks for up to 18 months.
Trevor Keppel, another member of the group and a resident in the Liberties, says he was inspired to get involved after he and his friends cycled from Dublin through Calais refugee camp in France and on to Chios Island in Greece to welcome migrant boats arriving on shore.
“The experience was really profound for me,” he says.
He says he was drawn to the scheme in particular, as refugees are introduced to an area rather than dealing with a government agency, which he sees as a “big advantage” for the family.
It Takes A Village
The scheme was first piloted back in 2018, and prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, was expected to welcome 100 people to Ireland by the end of 2020, according to the Irish Refugee Council website.
“There is definitely a lot of work in the preparation,” says Suzi Doyle, a member of Home from Home D6, a community volunteer group that worked with the Irish Red Cross to re-home Syrian refugees.
Home From Home D6 began their sponsorship of a Syrian family back in early 2019 to a new home in December of that year.
“I think by the time the family came over we had over 80 volunteers in the community,” says Doyle. “It spoke to me because it was something very tangible that I could do.”
Among the people on hand was an Arabic speaker in their group which helped the family, says Doyle.
“They [refugee family] did come over with a certain level of English,” says Doyle.
But having somebody that they felt they could trust, who could explain what was going on was very useful, she says.
Doyle says that volunteers who wish to bring a refugee family to Ireland also really need people who understand the system.
“[It’s frustrating] all of the appointments that need to be made. And you’ll find that you can’t get one appointment without making another appointment,” she says.
The process of setting up the likes of bank accounts and PPS numbers is very onerous, she says.
Finding A New Home
Keppel says that the most difficult task for volunteers currently is finding a home for the refugee families, due to the ongoing housing crisis.
He says that any landlords the volunteers have approached have insisted that rent is paid immediately. This presents difficulty as a family could get delayed arriving in Ireland.
“So then somebody doesn’t arrive in two months and arrives in four months, and you’ve already paid four month’s rent,” says Keppel.
Home from Home D6 was only able to find a home for their family through a friend of a volunteer, says Doyle.
Keatinge, therefore, is hoping that a house will present itself through word of mouth to the group. “We’re just hoping to get the word out.”