Fostering Integration

There are close to 10,000 refugees in Ireland. Many are unable to return home and some may never do so. Many will make their permanent home in Ireland and may become naturalised as Irish citizens. Because of language barriers, unrecognised skills or qualifications and situations involving separated families, integration may not be easy for some refugees. This presents challenges and Ireland's statutory and voluntary agencies have been actively involved in assisting refugees and host communities to adapt.

UNHCR has advocated for special support for refugees at the initial phases of their integration. UNHCR carried out research on the needs of refugees in the area of integration in a study called Mapping Integration in April 2009.

In our experience, local authorities and communities have played a key role in the successful first phases of integration of refugees and their children in Ireland, in particular those local initiatives that deal with language barriers, access to health, education, employment and participation in sports and other local leisure activities. Although it can have different meanings and definitions, there are common features in the approach to the integration of urban refugees between UNHCR and the European Union and its Member States, like Ireland. UNHCR’s policy in this area is continually developing in tandem with policies being defined and shaped European-wide and internationally.

Essentially, UNHCR sees integration as a two-way process involving efforts by the refugee and the host country to create the conditions that will allow individual refugees to start rebuilding their lives. In these efforts, it is the host country that must take the lead role and communicate its expectations for integration.

UNHCR’s definition of integration flows from the 1951 Refugee Convention and a number of the agency's Executive Committee Conclusions on durable solutions and local integration. Three key elements have been identified within integration, including the fact it involves complex legal questions around citizenship, questions around economic rights and self-reliance, and others concerning social and cultural integration. To ensure success, all three aspects must be supported by the host State.

The recommendations made by UNHCR on integration in the European context relate to ensuring that refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are included in integration programmes; that the special needs of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are recognised in integration supports; that issues such as lack of documentation, potential trauma and the impact of the asylum process are addressed; that family reunification is facilitated in a timely manner and that there is access to a secure legal status as early as possible, with the potential for becoming an Irish citizen.

Ireland is at an integration crossroads. Support for integration has to date been pursued through boosting mainstream services to tackle a more diverse society as well as making funds available for projects with an integration aim. UNHCR’s Irish office will be working with the authorities and civil society in Ireland in every way we can to support efforts, discuss problems and identify solutions for the integration of refugees.

Our hope is that through joint efforts with the authorities, civil society and refugees we can create possibilities for people to reach their potential and contribute to their own and to Ireland's future.

Family Reunification

When individuals flee persecution they are often forced to leave family behind. Also, during flight families often become separated. UNHCR supports the need to reunite refugees and their families.

In Ireland, family reunion is chiefly governed by Section 18 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended). A refugee can apply for family reunion under the Act to the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Various international human rights instruments state the family is the natural and fundamental unit of society and is entitled to the protection by society and the State. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states this in Article 16.

Refugees may not have the means to support the cost of flights for their families. In recent years UNHCR has provided some assistance to refugees following a financial assessment. This scheme is operated in partnership with the Irish Red Cross. However, UNHCR has a limited fund for this activity and can only assist refugees with no other financial possibilities.

Reuniting families can run into delays. First, there must be a decision taken by the Minister on the application a refugee makes for family reunion. Issues can often arise which require clarifications on the exact family relation two people may have to each other. There can be child protection concerns and additional checks may be necessary to safeguard against trafficking.

A refugee's family may be without passports, unable to acquire them for fear of persecution, or they may simply have expired. In addition, some family members may require assistance to travel, such as very young children or elderly family members. UNHCR partners with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to organise the departure and travel of the refugees’ family in cases where assistance is needed.
The process of family reunion can be very frustrating and worrying for the refugee waiting to see his/her family. Even before a family arrives, a refugee needs also to think about new accommodation, schools and other financial and practical issues. The challenges these present can be complicated by a lack of familiarity a refugee may have with how things work in Ireland.

Mapping Integration

UNHCR's project report on refugee integration in Ireland (April 2009).

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Evaluation and Research Papers on Refugee Integration

Papers on integration.

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Integration in the News

Integration issues in the News.

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Integration Initiatives: Supporting Next Steps

Supporting Next Steps in Integration Initiatives: An Inventory of Opportunities and Needs in the Integration of Resettled Refugees.

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