UNHCR urges Ireland to resettle more refugees 25 years after first Vietnamese arrive

News Stories, 24 June 2004

© UNHCR/S.O'Brien
UNHCR Representative in Ireland Pia Prütz Phiri (left) with refugees from Zimbabwe, Kosovo, Viet Nam and Iran, as well as Sister Phil Sinnott (in blue) after the World Refugee Day event in Dublin.

DUBLIN, Ireland, June 24 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has urged Ireland to resettle more refugees as the country celebrates World Refugee Day and the 25th anniversary of the first resettlement of Vietnamese refugees.

In an opinion-editorial article in The Irish Times this week, UNHCR Representative in Ireland Pia Prütz Phiri appealed to the Irish government to increase its resettlement quota in view of the continued decrease in the number of asylum seekers arriving by their own means, and enhanced structures in place to receive refugees.

Ireland is one of only 16 countries worldwide with a yearly resettlement quota, receiving 10 cases annually. Of the 26,000 refugees resettled worldwide in 2003, Ireland received 54. Last year also saw the government enshrining resettlement in Irish law, a move welcomed by UNHCR.

"An increase in Ireland's resettlement quota would signal its genuine intention to share responsibility for the world's refugees and to save refugee lives that might otherwise be lost," said Prütz Phiri.

In all, Ireland hosts some 6,000 recognised refugees. Many of them have been granted asylum after going through the national asylum procedure, while others have been resettled from other countries.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first resettlement of Vietnamese refugees in Ireland. UNHCR celebrated the occasion in conjunction with World Refugee Day by holding a press conference with the Irish government's Reception & Integration Agency.

Speaking at the event last Friday, Prütz Phiri said, "Some 25 years ago, 212 Vietnamese refugees were accepted for resettlement by Ireland. Today it is a well-established community numbering around 823 persons who have made tremendous contributions to the country that has become their new home."

Recalling her family's resettlement to Ireland in 1979, Yen Jade Tham told reporters, "With the clothes on our backs, little or no money, no language and hope as our guide, my parents, two sisters and brother journeyed to a far-off unknown place called Ireland."

Yen's youngest sister was born in 1980, the first child born in the newly-established Vietnamese refugee community, and she was given the name "Ai-i-Lan", after Ireland.

Yen remembered "gelling pretty well with the rest of the kids in school". At the age of eight, she asked to be baptised in order to become Catholic. She said, "I remember thinking, 'Why not? I sound, behave and believe like any other Irish girl.' So I did."

Yen was naturalised with her family in 1986. The family has prospered by setting up businesses in Ireland.

Visiting Viet Nam in 1993 for the first time, Yen remembered visiting her birthplace and finding her roots. "It was at this point when I realised how proud and lucky I was to be Vietnamese. I always felt in limbo growing up with the two cultures and it was confusing growing up at home."

Following her visit to Viet Nam, Yen said, "The best way to look at it is that I take the best from the two cultures and combine them both."

Asked where home is, she replied, "In Ireland, people laugh when they ask me where I am from and I say 'Drogheda', but that is where I'm from. When I'm abroad and people ask, I always say Ireland because to me Ireland is a place to call home."

Representatives of the Vietnamese community, including Yen's father, the Chairman of the Vietnamese Association, were present for the occasion.

The press conference also paid tribute to Sister Phil Sinnott, who was actively involved in welcoming the Vietnamese refugees in 1979. She became a strong supporter and friend, garnering support from her own order, the Sacred Heart Order which also contributed generously to assisting the new community.

She was also a member of the Board of the Refugee Agency, which under the aegis of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs resettled an initial 198 Bosnian refugees in 1992. With three further admissions in the following years, the Bosnian community in Ireland currently numbers around 1,200.

Sister Sinnott retired from the Irish government's Refugee Agency when it was incorporated into the Reception and Integration Agency in 2001. On Friday, she received a Thank You certificate signed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, for a lifetime of services to refugees resettling in Ireland.

She said, "I would like to say that this was a happy period of my life.... I would like to thank the refugees themselves for their contribution to the enrichment of Irish society."

Quoting the certificate, Prütz Phiri said, "Around the world we are striving to provide refugees with protection, help and hope for the future. Your generous contribution helped move us closer to that goal."