Friday 17 November 2017

Public's 'bed for refugees' pledge to be rejected

Commercial operators scout ghost estates and apartment blocks as alternative solution

Refugees and migrants arrive in a dinghy to the Greek island of Lesbos
Refugees and migrants arrive in a dinghy to the Greek island of Lesbos

Daniel McConnell and Maeve Sheehan

The Government is unlikely to take up offers from thousands of people to accept refugees into their homes as it would be "logistically" problematic, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Instead, it is expected to rely mostly on commercial contractors currently operating direct-provision centres to house the vast majority of refugees fleeing conflict in Syria.

Their plight prompted a huge surge of support from private citizens offering more than 7,000 beds in their own homes and other practical support.

However, according to government sources, senior government strategists and ministers have said the prospect of refugee families staying in private homes would be problematic to monitor and only "sustainable" solutions could be considered as part of the State's approach.

"This sustainable solution does not include people's homes," said a source.

Nevertheless, the Irish Red Cross was asked by the Government to assess the offers of beds in private homes and to "harness" the positive outpouring of support from communities across the country.

Meanwhile, a task force is currently considering the massive logistical effort involved in transporting 4,000 refugees, mostly from Greece and Hungary, to Ireland. Two options under consideration are to transport refugees by charter flight or by ferry into Dublin Port, which could require a separate processing centre.

It is envisaged that no more than 180 to 250 people would be brought into the country at one time, and that the numbers would most likely be staggered over the course of two years.

The Government is understood to be looking at four or five assessment centres in different parts of the country, where those brought into the country will have their refugee status confirmed before being sent on to long-term accommodation.

Companies operating direct-provision centres have also been asked in recent days to come up with a solution for longer-term accommodation.

According to industry sources, a number of private companies have begun scouting for suitable sites that could be completed or built on to cater for large numbers of refugees.

The sites include ghost estates, apartment blocks and other vacant sites around the country. Some of the sites being considered are in Nama or in receivership, according to industry sources.

The Office of Public Works has also been asked to compile an audit of suitable state-owned properties, such as disused army barracks, but these are likely to require considerable upgrading.

Pat Carey, the former government minister and chairman of the Irish Red Cross, said the outpouring of support had been "phenomenal".

He added that offers of beds would be assessed on several levels, including whether the refugee families include children of school-going age, whether there are students at third level, and the prospects of employment for them in the community.

"I think it will be Christmas or close to it before we get a huge amount of activity. I think it will be incremental and will be measured," he said. "I think the level of support is phenomenal. We should be certain to make people feel that they do have a role."

It has also been confirmed that those affected by the current crisis will be dealt with under a separate process from direct provision.

The incoming "programme refugees" are expected to be assessed within 10 weeks, after which they will be assigned accommodation and allowed to work. They will also receive financial support but it's not clear how much. Those in direct provision are not allowed to work and receive allowances of €19 a week.

Of the 4,000 mostly Syrian and Eritrean refugees to be taken by Ireland, 520 were agreed under an earlier refugee programme. Around 20 have already arrived and are being accommodated in a hotel in Kildare.

The Government is expected to announce a chairman for the task force, comprising officials from government departments and non-government agencies, later this week.

Sunday Independent

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