Saturday 22 October 2016

Doctor's orders: Homeless 1 Refugees 0

The narrative of the hierarchy of the deserving is just a stalling tactic - all those in need will have to be catered for, like it or not

Ciara Kelly

Published 05/10/2015 | 02:30

No entry: Refugees sit on a bridge after Austrian police stopped them at the border between Austria and Germany.
No entry: Refugees sit on a bridge after Austrian police stopped them at the border between Austria and Germany.

There's been a lot of column inches generated of late about homelessness and the refugee crisis. And for some reason, in some people's minds, there appears to be a debate about whether we should do anything to help Syrian refugees, fleeing their war-torn country, until we've sorted out the Irish families in crisis with nowhere to live here at home. In an almost Hunger Games-like scenario, they're trying to pit the homeless and refugees against one another, in a competition for our hearts and minds and money.

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The fact that most of the people using this macabre competition narrative - 'Do something for our own before we start helping these immigrants' - are people who have no interest in helping either the homeless or the refugees is not lost on all of us. It is a blatant attempt at diverting and deflecting money and services away from refugees, but without any genuine desire to actually help the homeless.

That homelessness is a huge problem here is no overstatement. You can't walk around our cities or our small towns without seeing lost souls in sleeping bags huddled in doorways, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. Many thousands more are living not rough on our streets but in hostels, hotels, B&Bs and friends' floors or other makeshift accommodation.

These are the hidden homeless, and while they are less likely to die from exposure, their circumstances are only slightly less bleak. The majority of people who have become homeless in the past year have never been homeless before - this is all new to them, and thousands of them are families with children.

Refugees are another particularly pitiful group. Often, having been exposed to unthinkable horrors, the murder of family members, the loss of their homes, their whole communities, they arrive into Europe still shocked and bewildered at where their lives have ended up.

I've heard the accusations that these 'migrants' aren't really coming from Syria but are leaving Turkey looking for better conditions. Or the suspicious - 'They're all young fit men, how can they be refugees?' - and some of that's true, in that many were in Turkey before they arrived to our shores. They've still endured unimaginable suffering.

One man I heard interviewed, who was indeed young and fit, is the last remaining member of his family. And while he was a refugee in Turkey he heard from his then-still-alive Kurdish sister that his brother's head had been sent home to his family in a box.

Another thing that's said is that those in direct provision shouldn't be passed over for housing and settlement here by this new influx of refugees. They've served their time in Ireland's shameful excuse for an asylum system - and they should be treated ahead of these new refugees.

All these arguments smack of one thing to me: The attempt to create a hierarchy of deserving. A hierarchy of the desperate. And not in order to in some way triage these vulnerable people, to ethically give to the most deserving first. No, this is not that. This is merely a side-show. Create a hierarchy and maybe we won't have to look after them all. Create a hierarchy and maybe, in fact, while we're off arguing about the hierarchy, we won't have to look after any of them.

But here's the thing. It isn't either/or here. Look after the homeless or the refugees. It's both, because neither can be overlooked. We are going to have to find a way of looking after both because neither group has any other options.

And what the Government needs to actually get its head around is the fact that it's got to spend all this money and look after all these people and there isn't even any votes in it. A new world order indeed.


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