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The National
Consultative Committee,
26 Harcourt Street,
Dublin 2.
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National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism

Submission to the Working Group on the Integration of Refugees
February 1999

Page Contents:
Policy approach


The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism welcomes the invitation to make a submission to the Interdepartmental Working Group on the Integration of Refugees in Ireland.

This submission is based on the outcomes of a roundtable discussion involving members of the National Consultative Committee and/or groups working closely with refugees and asylum seekers, including, including: the UNHCR; the Irish Refugee Council; the Refugee Agency; EU Migrants Forum; the Irish Congress of Trade Unions; Access Ireland; Tallaght Refugee Project; Comlamh; Jesuit Refugee Service; Holy Ghost congregation; 'A Part of Ireland now' Project; and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The report does not necessarily reflect the positions of individual organisations.

The National Consultative Committee believes that the forthcoming report of the Interdepartmental Working Group on the Integration of refugees and the government response to the report, marks an important opportunity for the Irish Government to develop policies and practices which meet and exceed the current international and European standards and recommendations on integration.

The submission is made on the basis that developing an integration policy towards refugees is an evolving process, that it is at an early stage in Ireland and that no report or submission can be a finite statement on the approach and measures which need to be adopted.

The submission outlines international standards and recent recommendations on integration and looks at some of the policy that has developed in Ireland to date which could contribute to the development of an overall policy approach. The submission provides a rationale to support the recent recommendation by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles that the phase of reception should be recognised as an integral part of the integration process of refugees. The submission further highlights the need for an anti racism/intercultural approach as one of the principles informing integration policy.

The submission concludes by advocating a framework approach to integration policy involving a range of agencies with an emphasis on partnership, involving both statutory and non-statutory agencies at both national and local levels.

In its review of The State of Refugee Integration in the European Union, ECRE, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles concluded that integration between EU member states varies considerably from one country to another, depending on factors such as an individual country's attitude to diversity and immigration; individual country's approach to welfare and social protection and an individual country's approach to participation and national membership.1 Some countries such as France; United Kingdom; Germany; Netherlands and Sweden have a long history of receiving refugees and or migrants. Other countries including Ireland; Spain; Greece; Italy and Portugal have become refugee receiving countries more recently, or in smaller numbers.

1. ECRE. The State of Refugee Integration in the European Union. P9. October 1998

The ECRE report acknowledged that while Ireland has not developed a comprehensive integration policy to date, its attitudes towards immigration; social welfare and diversity compare quite favourably with other European countries. The Committee strongly urges that the development of an integration policy will not be based on a view of refugees as a problem, which is the case in some other European countries, but as a challenge to the development of a more inclusive and intercultural society in Ireland.

Structure of the Report

The structure of the submission is as follows

  1. Principles for defining and informing integration policy
  2. A rationale for the recognition of the reception phase as part of an integration policy
  3. Policy approach and policy areas
  4. The development of a framework approach

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1. Principles for defining and informing integration policy

There are at least four sources from which to base a set of principles to inform the development of a comprehensive integration policy in Ireland. These are:

  • 1.1 The protections afforded by the 1951 Convention on Refugees
  • 1.2 The recommendations on policy arising out of a recent European Council sponsored conference on the Integration of refugees in Europe
  • 1.3 The evolving approach to the integration of minority ethnic groups, including refugees in Ireland
  • 1.4 Building an anti racism/intercultural dimension into integration policies

1.1 The 1951 Convention

The protection provided by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees are an important 'floor' on which to base standards for refugee integration2. These protections focus on the rights of employment and self-employment; welfare issues related to housing; right of association; public education and social welfare; labour legislation and the right of free movement of refugees. In a range of service areas the Convention stipulates that refugees should not be treated less favourably than that accorded to non-nationals.

2. The UN convention uses the term 'assimilation' which is now widely viewed as a somewhat anachronistic and loaded term, but the intent of the Convention is clearly on what is now understood as integration

While the Convention is an important starting point, it is becoming increasingly recognised by bodies such as the UNHCR and the Council of Europe that the definition and standards set out in the Convention in relation to integration are too restricted in their scope; that there is a need to update these standards and to work towards a common definition and principles which should inform integration policy within individual states. The most important development in the move towards agreed principles are the outcomes of the conference held by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) in November 1998.

1.2 ECRE Recommendations

The following are a summary of the 10 policy recommendations arising out of the ECRE Conference, which are aimed at European and national levels.

  1. That a common definition of integration is adopted at European level that recognises that integration is a two way process and the objective of integration should be the establishment of a mutual and responsible relationship between individual refugees, civil society and host states which promotes equality; self determination and sustainable self sufficiency for refugees and acceptance and positive action in favour of refugees by European governments and societies at large

  2. That integration interventions should be based on a rights framework; that European and national actions and programmes on refugee integration should

    • Build upon the skills and potential of refugees
    • Be gender sensitive
    • Promote the active participation of refuges in public life and economic activity
    • Respect differences and diversity
    • Promote refugee self-development
  3. That refugees be recognised as individuals with special needs and distinct service requirements during the initial phase of their integration into a host society
  4. The phase of reception be recognised as an integral part of the integration process of refugees in particular given the current length of asylum determination procedures in most European countries and the potential; impact of reception services, or in many cases detention, on the process of integration of those eventually granted leave to settle in European countries.
  5. That European countries recognise citizenship as a key policy instrument for facilitating integration.
  6. That persons afforded an insecure status should have their status regularised after a maximum period of two years.
  7. That the development of a welcoming inclusive society be recognised as a key priority by European governments and other institutions. Intercultural education at schools and the workplace should be promoted with the active involvement of the social partners
  8. Special priority should be given to supporting the process of refugee empowerment, particularly through the development and support of community development strategies.
  9. The development of integration actions and programmes should act as a bridge to mainstream services. Such actions should be innovative; should promote 'self help' and should be informed by action research
  10. The right to family reunion should be extended to all people who have been given official sanction to remain and procedures established to facilitate access to family reunification

1.3 The evolving approach to the integration of minority ethnic groups, including refugees into Irish society

In Ireland in recent years, a policy towards the integration of minority ethnic groups has begun to evolve, albeit that this policy appears at times to be ad hoc, inconsistent and disjointed. The clearest articulation of integration policy is in respect of Travellers and Programme Refugees.


The example of the Task Force on the Travelling People and the recommendations contained within its final report3 provides both an approach and a range of measures, which could help to inform an on going integration policy towards refugees. The Task Force itself was established by the government along partnership lines with representation from a range of statutory and non-statutory bodies, including community groups operating at national level with a remit for Traveller issues. The Task Force Report provided an overview of the key socio-economic issues facing the Traveller community and a range of measures which need to be put in place to promote Traveller integration in policy areas such as education; enterprise, employment and training; accommodation and health. The recommendations of the Task Force were written into Partnership 2000, the current National Development Plan and a range of committees have been developed to implement and monitor the implementation of the Task Force recommendations.

3. Report of the Task Force on the Travelling People. Government Publications (1995)

The Integration of Refugees

In respect of refugees, to date the most comprehensive approach to integration has been developed for Programme Refugees. Special integration measures have been developed by through the Refugee Agency, which provide a range of interventions, particularly in settlement supports and language and employment training (The Interact initiative is one example). Other projects, such as Access Ireland, which was developed by the Irish Refugee Council, have a focus on working with Convention Refugees and service providers.

There are, however, gaps and inconsistencies in the refugee integration measures developed to date. These are:

  • The limited range of integration measures targeted at Convention Refugees and those given leave to remain, in comparison to the measures provided for Programme Refugees. A key limiting factor is that the present terms of reference of the Refugee Agency does not include expressly include Convention Refugees or those given 'Humanitarian Permission to Remain'.
  • There is much uncertainty around those granted 'Humanitarian Permission to Remain" which has implications for their inclusion in integration policies. There is, at present, no legal basis for 'Permission to Remain' status and although it is codified in the Refugee Act, there is no specification of the conditions and rights which pertains to such a status, for example, it is not clear if and when those granted Permission to Remain have the right to family reunification, even though the families may be in the same need of protection.
  • Current government policy is not to assist the integration of asylum seekers into the State, even on a temporary basis. The anomalies and potential consequences of this exclusion are discussed in section 2.

1.4 Building an anti-racism and intercultural dimension into integration policy

Asylum seekers are now part of a local community, often living in areas with high unemployment and high levels of social exclusion. Some existing communities have felt threatened by the apparent change in the ethnic profile of their area which has resulted in incidents of racially motivated harassment directed at people who are perceived to be a refugee or asylum seeker. Some community groups have recognised this problem and are developing small-scale strategies, such as festivals, workshops and presentations to schools to try and break down these fears. However these initiatives are small scale and inadequately funded.

Legislation has a key role to play in protecting refuges from racism. The Incitement to Hatred Act (1989) has been recognised as being completely inadequate to address racially motivated crime/incitement to crime and there have been no successful prosecutions to date. This legislation needs to be reviewed, as does the existing criminal justice legislation.

The role of the media in addressing racism is also an important one. Some reports and programmes have helped to highlight diversity in Ireland positively, others have contributed to a climate of fear by printing or broadcasting alarmist and inaccurate stories on 'floods of refugees' or by labeling refugees as 'scroungers' or that all or most refugees are involved in criminal activity.

As well as the need to address racism, there is a need to develop strategies that aim to build a more intercultural and inclusive society. For example, ensuring that the needs of refugees and asylum seekers are recognised and included in initiatives such as the National Anti Poverty Strategy and in the Departmental Customer Action Plans developed as part of the Strategic Management Initiative. The need for intercultural education is also beginning to be recognised as a key issue within the school curriculum.

These are areas of concern on which the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism is beginning to develop strategies4. However the approach of the National Committee needs to be reinforced and supported by an overall integration policy.

4. Framework Programme of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism. February 1999

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2. A Rationale for the Recognition of the Reception Phase as Part of an Integration Policy

There are at least two reasons why the reception phase, i.e. the phase in which asylum seekers wait through until their application for refugee status are processed, should be part of an overall integration policy

2.1 The potential consequences of not including asylum seekers in an integration policy

2.2 The emergence of the de facto/partial integration of asylum seekers

2.1 The potential consequences of not including asylum seekers in an integration policy

ECRE points to two reasons why integration should begin during the reception phase, these are the delays in processing asylum requests and secondly the impact of the reception phase on those who are eventually granted refugee status. ECRE contends that the reception phase plays a key part in shaping the success or otherwise of the overall integration process for those eventually granted refugee status or permission to remain. This contention is supported by the limited amount of research carried out in Ireland to date that shows that many asylum seekers face loss of a sense of self worth and dignity while awaiting the outcomes of their application. Many are frustrated that they cannot apply their skills and education in their host country5. At the very least, this 'limbo' slows down the integration process as time spent looking for a job or learning new skills are wasted and will inevitably influence the perceptions of refugees to their host country.

5. Research carried out by Michael Begley for the Holy Ghost Congregation in County Clare.

2.2. The emergence of de facto/partial integration of asylum seekers

The approach of some countries, such as the United States is to segregate asylum seekers into holding Centres or in some States, in the Penitentiary system. This has lead to allegations of denial of human rights, mistreatment and criticism that such an approach defines asylum seekers as criminals.6

6. Newsnight. BBC television programme 16th August 1998

Fortunately, this is far from the approach adopted towards asylum seekers in Ireland, where asylum seekers are de facto part of the local community even if it is only for a limited period until their applications are fully processed. During the reception phase asylum seekers are entitled to a range of public services, including social welfare, health, and accommodation. The are however excluded from employment, state provided language classes and education, the latter being left to the provision of community groups. The children of asylum seekers are required to attend school until the age of 16.

In short, asylum seekers face a dichotomy of both being entitled to a range of statutory services, yet excluded from others of being part of a local community, yet sometimes experiencing racism, such as harassment and other forms of exclusion. There is in effect a form of partial integration which takes place, but this integration is unplanned; uncoordinated; and largely unsupported, except for the work of the community sector and the basic 'safety net' entitlements for health, social welfare and education.

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3. Policy approach and policy areas

The following policy approach and policy areas where identified as being key to the successful integration of refugees into Irish Society

  • 3.1 Overall approach

    The development of initiatives at policy level will require two, equally valid approaches

    • Building a refugee dimension into mainstream policy
    • The development of specialised policy interventions

    Their needs should be addressed within a broader frame of the needs of all minority ethnic groups as well as specific initiatives directed at refugees and asylum seekers

    Again, the National Committee would emphasise that the approach to policy development implementation and review should be participative; should be based on partnership and should be based on recognition of the need for cultural diversity and choice.

    The overall approach to policy also needs to include a gender and children dimension to ensure the needs of women refugees and their children are adequately included in all aspects of policy development. There were specific concerns around women's health and isolation expressed at the roundtable discussion which informed this submission. He specific needs of women need to be addressed in the form of specific strategies and as an overarching theme to integration.

    The policy approach should have a national and local dimension. Initiatives such as the recent committee established by the Lord Mayor in Dublin on issues related to racism and integration needs to be broadly welcomed and encouraged

  • 3.2 Accommodation and Settlement

    The issue of where refugees should live poses a number of issues, including the question of choice; the pull of kinship, nationality and ethnicity ties and access to employment and training and social supports. It is common for most European cities, including Dublin, to have areas identified with one particular minority ethnic group, for instance the tradition of Jewish and Islamic communities living around the South Circular Road in Dublin.

    Policies of dispersal are a common response in some other European countries. However, there are concerns about this approach which have been raised by the Council of Europe 'Except possibly for the initial settlement of large population influxes, enforced dispersal of ethnic groups is undesirable because it leads to the break up of families and communities and also carries the unfortunate implication that migrants are an undesirable or a problem element in the population. Enforced concentration of immigrants is even more unacceptable, amounting to a form of racial segregation'

    It has also been demonstrated that dispersal does not work in practice, for instance the Vietnamese Programme Refugees were dispersed to different parts of Ireland, but eventually tended to live near each other, particularly in parts of West Dublin. In other words there is also an efficiency argument against enforced dispersal, in terms of waste of resources, as well as an ethical argument. However, it is acknowledged that there are practical difficulties associated with non-dispersal, with the availability of adequately priced accommodation, particularly in parts of Dublin. There may therefore be a case for proactive policies to encourage new refugees to live in other areas and towns, however the key feature of this approach is choice and not enforcement.

  • 3.3 Income

    Recent research by the Refugee Resettlement Research Project showed that the majority of refugees suffered significant losses, including property and personal possession before coming to Ireland. Only 17% of Bosnians stated that there was an improvement in their living standards, while 40% said there was a noticeable drop7. Most of those whose living standards have declined are not in paid employment, which demonstrates that training and employment and adequate social welfare payments are key issues for successful integration

    7. Report of a survey of the Vietnamese and Bosnian Refugee communities in Ireland. Refugee Resettlement Project. Chapter 10. June 1998.

  • 3.4 Employment and training

    Further research is needed on the development of employment and training opportunities for refugees, and monitoring the success or otherwise of particular initiatives. The potential of developing self employment and initiatives in the social economy need to be given much greater support by government than at present. The inclusion of the needs of refugees in initiatives such as the area-based partnerships would help to mainstream some of these concerns

  • 3.5 Education and language Training

    There are very few resources which have been applied within the education system to the specific education needs of children and adults who are refugees. This has been highlighted by groups such as the INTO which recommended that: 'a national policy be developed, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that all children of ethnic minority communities have equal access to educationů.and the expansion of the Refugee Support Service should include all non EU ethnic minority children'8.

    8. The Challenge to Diversity. P44 INTO 1998

    The National Consultative Committee also urges that language training and second chance education provision for adult refugees should also be a priority. State supports for language training should also be extended to those in the reception phase and should not be left to the community sector alone.

  • 3.6 Community development

    One of the key recommendations arising out of the ECRE report is the need to support community development strategies for refugees and asylum seeker groups. The Department of Social, Community and Family affairs have a particularly important role to play in this respect through the inclusion of refugee and asylum seeker groups in initiatives such as the Community Development Programme 9

    9. Watt, P. Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Ireland. The Potential of Community Development Strategies. Combat Poverty Agency. November 1998

  • 3.7 Social welfare

    There is often a presumption of literacy in the provision of information and form filing within the social welfare system. More supports are needed to provide information on entitlements in different languages, support for form filing and interpretative services where necessary.

  • 3.8 Health

    Results from a qualitative study undertaken in Ennis by the Holy Ghost Congregation shows that asylum seekers are mostly healthy, but there is concern about their long term health as they survive on low incomes. There is a need to ensure that the support for victims of torture, imprisonment and other psychological distress are adequately addressed at the reception phase.

  • 3.9 Family reunification

    As soon as someone is granted Humanitarian Right to Remain, they should be entitled to family reunification rights. The present situation is very unclear, because of lack of specific rights attached to this status.

  • 3.10 Media

    The important role of the media in promoting a more culturally diverse and inclusive society has been highlighted in this report. However the prevalence of inaccurate and sensationalist reporting around issues related to refugees and asylum seekers remains a problem. While regognising the right to report what is in the public interest, there is a clear need for stronger forms of redress for groups that have been at the receiving end of such reports and stronger guidelines within media organisations on how such issues should be reported.

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4. The Development of a Framework Approach to the needs of refugees and Asylum Seekers

There are a number of different dimensions to developing an overall approach to the integration of refuges and asylum seekers. Guided by the principles and conclusions highlighted in this report the possible elements of such a framework are presented in the form of options for consideration.

Future Strategy Options

  1. The adoption of the recommendations from ECRE, as a n addition to the provisions in the 1951 Convention, and the drawing on the experience of integration already developed in Ireland as a basis for drawing up an integration policy
  2. The development of an anti-racism/intercultural dimension to integration policy in association with the National consultative Committee
  3. An overall body is needed to help inform policy. One possible option is the expansion of the membership and remit of the Interdepartmental Working Group. Another option is the establishment of a Task Force to look at the integration needs of refugees, along similar terms of reference on the Task force on the Travelling People. The Task Force or the expanded existing Committee should be comprised on representatives from statutory and non statutory groups, including community groups working directly with refugees and asylum seekers
  4. If the second suggestion in recommendation 3 is accepted, a Report by the Task Force could be drawn up over a specified period of time, allowing for an interim report to be published if necessary
  5. The inclusion of the recommendations of the Task Force in the forthcoming National Development Plan and subsequent implementation and monitoring structures.
  6. The inclusion of the reception phase as part of an overall integration policy, for the reasons outlined in section two of this report, and the development of measures to reflect this inclusion
  7. The expansion of the role of the Refugee Agency from its present role of supporting the integration of Programme Refugees to include the integration of Convention Refugees and those granted Humanitarian Permission to Remain
  8. The development of a specific support structure for asylum seekers as part of a new agency or as part of the remit of an existing agency. If this is not possible, a second option would be the expansion of community development supports, financial and otherwise for asylum seekers, which would enhance the ability of groups in the voluntary and community sector to meet some of their current needs. Other Departments, including the Department of Social Community and family Affairs should play a key role in this process and the National Consultative Committee would be prepared to play a part in the coordination of a such as strategy
  9. The development of an urban integration strategy in response to the issues related to the integration of refuges and asylum seekers in urban areas, in particular Dublin's inner city and towns such as Ennis and Wexford.
  10. 'Refugee proofing' other major initiatives which are being undertaken at present which have the potential to impact on their needs, including the establishment of a Human Rights Commission and the forthcoming Equality Authority. Review of effectiveness of the protections provided by existing legislation, including the Incitement to Hatred Act should also be considered.

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Policy approach
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