110 Syrian refugees will be resettled in Cork and Kerry
Around 50 fleeing war are to be housed in each of the Munster counties before end of the year
Cork and Kerry have been chosen to resettle the first 110 Syrian refugees, with many intended to be in their new homes by Christmas, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Around 50 refugees will be resettled in the two counties before the end of the year, and the rest before March.
Those bound for Cork and Kerry are part of a cohort of 520 already classified as refugees.
They will have the same rights as Irish citizens.
The remaining 3,500 asylum-seekers who Ireland has agreed to accept as part of the "Irish Refugee Protection Programme" will be seeking refugee status when they arrive from Greece and Italy over the coming months.
The assessment of immediate, medium-term and long-term accommodation facilities for the asylum-seekers is still being considered.
These include the use of state-owned property and privately-owned facilities.
A spokesman for the Dep- artment of Justice said all those already classified as refugees will be resettled in eight counties over the next 14 months.
"One hundred have already arrived. Some have been housed in Thurles and Portlaoise. Seventy-six are currently accommodated in the Hazel Reception Centre in Monasterevin while they will undergo a language-training and orientation programme," said the spokesman.
Officials have liaised with local authorities and other service providers in Cork and Kerry to ensure that the necessary accommodation and other requirements will be put in place.
The department will not yet identify specific towns, villages or communities, but says the majority will be housed in the private rented sector.
The relocation programme is part of a series of measures agreed at EU level to ease the enormous pressure being experienced across Europe.
The UN's refugee agency is calling on local communities to "give the refugees space" when they arrive in Cork and Kerry.
"They need to get orientated. They are incredibly vulnerable people and we need the emphasis to be put on that," said Jody Clarke, a spokesman for the UNHCR.
Sue Conlan, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, welcomed confirmation that refugees will be housed in Cork and Kerry, but is frustrated that the Government will not release further details.
"Their lack of forthcoming information suggests their desire to do this quietly and shrouded in secrecy," she said.
"I find it staggering that they don't actually know how to work with public sentiment on this one - they are showing no leadership, they are hiding and cowering in the corner."
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice says it has increased resources to clear the current asylum application backlog.
A panel of legal experts has been enhanced to process and interview applicants for refugee status, some of whom have been waiting at direct provision centres across the country for up to 10 years.
"Additional administrative staff will also be recruited over the coming months to provide back-up support to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC). Staff will enhance ORAC's capacity to schedule hearings, organise interpreters and process application and issue recommendations," said the department spokesman.
The panel has already begun dealing with such cases in addition to permanent ORAC caseworkers.
The Irish Refugee Council has welcomed these measures, but said the move is "long-overdue".
"It's worked well on other panels when extra legal experts have been taken on, so we would hope that it will improve the situation for us, so it's a positive step," said Ms Conlan.
"They've been waiting long enough. It doesn't matter how long they've been, the backlog needs to be cleared because we're dealing with a whole new situation now. If it's not cleared, resources can't be properly devoted.
"We can't leave the other ones behind. These people have waited long enough and they have to be given equal priority."
However, she disputed government claims that incoming refugees will not be housed in direct provision .
"It's just misleading. They will be in exactly the same type of initial institutions," said Ms Conlan.