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Irish government consults refugees on integration for the first time

News Stories, 7 October 2004

© UNHCR/S.O'Brien
Fidele Mutwarasibo was one of the forum's participants. The former refugee from Rwanda is now an Irish citizen working for the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

DUBLIN, Ireland, Oct 7 (UNHCR) A milestone in Ireland's effort to integrate refugees was reached earlier this week when the government's Reception & Integration Agency held direct consultations with 50 refugees for the first time on steps to support their integration.

The Reception & Integration Agency, which operates under the aegis of Ireland's Department of Justice, Equality & Law Reform, launched the initiative to tap into "the direct experiences of refugees, their identification of the issues, their views on emerging integration policy, the barriers which they continue to face and how the Agency can best help to achieve a common goal of integration into Irish society."

Expressing UNHCR's concern over the lack of integration initiatives, the agency's Representative in Ireland, Pia Prütz Phiri, said, "While Ireland's positive integration policy, 'A Two-way Process', launched in 1999, remains essential to what we wish to achieve, it is time to move forward to the next phase, to produce real 'on the ground' opportunities for refugee integration."

Prütz Phiri told refugees at the forum, "You are in the best position to identify your own needs. Integration is important for you as individuals, for Ireland, and for the continued protection of refugees here. You and your communities will bear the heaviest brunt for the failure of integration."

Recalling that in several European countries, steps are being taken to designate ministers solely responsible for the portfolio of integration, Prütz Phiri said, "This demonstrates the level of seriousness integration is being dealt with in the EU, not because integration has been a success, but because it has been a failure in so many countries."

Welcoming Ireland's renewed initiative and expressing UNHCR's hopes for the future shape of integration support in Ireland, she said, "We would like to see a programme that is tailored towards refugees' individual needs and aspirations and that quickly enables access to mainstream services and opportunities with the same ease as Irish nationals."

Among the forum's participants was Fidele Mutwarasibo, who fled Rwanda and sought asylum in Ireland during the 1990s. He commended the Reception & Integration Agency for initiating a process of listening to refugees.

"At long last integration is centre stage. As far back as I can remember, it has never been a real issue. It's better late than never," he said.

Discouraged by the lack of initiative on integration in recent years, Mutwarasibo remarked, "Now I want to see a bit of vibrancy. Refugees do not feel they have been encouraged to participate in Irish society. This consultation is a step in the right direction."

He expressed concern, however, that "sometimes we meet, we talk, and nothing happens. I want to see action. The Reception & Integration Agency engaged us in this process. We are going to follow through with it. We have to keep the momentum up to see results."

He added, "We need each other. The Reception & Integration Agency cannot take it forward alone. If we recognise that, it will make a real difference. Before, it was just them. Maybe now, as part of this consultation, we can begin to say 'we'."

Identifying gaps in the consultation process, Mutwarasibo said, "There is a missing link at the moment. Refugees need to be empowered to argue their case. Others cannot represent them."

Now an Irish citizen, Mutwarasibo noted that many refugees in Ireland have acquired citizenship without the benefit of integration support. He and many former refugees are in a unique position, he feels.

"It's a paradox if a citizen is part of a society but starts from a position of disadvantage. There is a need for a level playing field with other citizen counterparts. For instance, just because I am a citizen doesn't guarantee me a job," he said.

The Reception & Integration Agency is expected to publish a report on the forum, and reconvene a further meeting with refugees to report back on progress in the area of integration in the coming months.




UNHCR country pages

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

This gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

After decades of hospitality after World War II, as the global political climate changed and the number of people cared for by UNHCR swelled from around one million in 1951, to more than 27 million people in the mid-1990s, the welcome mat for refugees was largely withdrawn.

Voluntary repatriation has become both the preferred and only practical solution for today's refugees. In fact, the great majority of them choose to return to their former homes, though for those who cannot do so for various reasons, resettlement in countries like the United States and Australia, and local integration within regions where they first sought asylum, remain important options.

This gallery sees Rwandans returning home after the 1994 genocide; returnees to Kosovo receiving reintegration assistance; Guatemalans obtaining land titles in Mexico; and Afghans flocking home in 2003 after decades in exile.

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

A Place to Call Home (Part 1): 1953 - 1995

Based on the 2004 World Refugee Day theme, "A place to call home: Rebuilding lives in safety and dignity", this two-part gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

In more than a half century of humanitarian work, the UN refugee agency has helped more than 50 million uprooted people across the globe to successfully restart their lives.

Following the end of World War II and in the prevailing climate of the Cold War, many refugees, including those fleeing Soviet-dominated countries or the aftermath of the conflict in Indo China, were welcomed by the countries to which they initially fled or resettled in states even further afield.

In Part 1 of the gallery, a family restarts its life in New Zealand in the 1950s after years in a German camp; Vietnamese children make their first snowman in Sweden; while two sisters rebuild their home after returning to post-war Mozambique in the early 1990s.

A Place to Call Home (Part 1): 1953 - 1995

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

Rwanda's Kiziba Camp was opened in December 1996, after the start of civil war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The facility was constructed to help cope with the influx of tens of thousands of Congolese refugees at that time. Some of the refugees have since returned to their homes in eastern DRC, but about 16,000 remain at the remote hilltop camp located in the Western province of Rwanda. Fresh violence last year in DRC's North Kivu province did not affect the camp because new arrivals were accommodated in the reopened Kigeme Camp in Rwanda's Southern province. Most of the refugees in Kiziba have said they do not want to return, but the prospects of local integration is limited by factors such as a lack of land and limited access to employment. In the meantime, people try to lead as normal a life as possible, learning new skills and running small businesses to help them become self-sufficient. For the youth, access to sports and education is very important to ensure that they do not become sidetracked by negative influences as well as to keep up their spirits and hopes for the future.

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp