Republican News · Thursday 02 March 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Unions oppose O'Donoghue's measures

IMPACT and SIPTU, the two unions which represent the 550 Community Welfare Officers who work with refugees in the 26 Counties, have deplored the ``new practice of compulsorily assigning refugees and their families to full board hostels around the state, with just 15 for living expenses''. Spokespersons for the unions said that this policy was ``dictatorial and discriminatory'' and warned that staff may refuse to administer it.

In a joint statement, the two unions said that ``the government is trying to discourage asylum-seekers from coming to Ireland by confining them to hostels with living expenses of just 2.14 a day.'' Kevin Callinan, National Secretary of IMPACT, says that ``staff in the Community Welfare Offices are angry and upset at being compelled to administer a policy which they see as blatantly discriminatory''. The two unions have sought an urgent meeting with the Department of Justice, which is responsible for this policy.

By the end of February, the Department had compulsorily assigned 1,067 refugees to live in hostels around the state. Most of these asylum seekers are on full board, but they are not entitled to receive supplementary welfare benefits.

Refugees who want to leave this accommodation are not entitled to seek benefits, or rent supplement, as other social welfare applicants are. According to the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, ``their accommodation needs have already been met.''

Rosheen Callender, SIPTU's National Equality Officer, points out that ``SIPTU members are committed to full equal treatment for all supplementary applicants, irrespective of nationality and country of origin,'' and calls on the government to ensure ``that every community with asylum seekers in its midst would have the facilities to extend whatever hospitality they can to people who find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.''

Instead the Department institutes what Kevin Callinan calls ``an inhumane policy aimed simply at discouraging asylum-seekers from coming to Ireland, even though we have the resources to face up to our international responsibilities.''

Many NGOs, including FLAC, the Refugee Council, the ICCL and the Federation against Racism have praised the step taken by IMPACT and SIPTU.

The Office of Public Works has now taken over responsibility, jointly with the Directorate of Asylum-Seekers Services (DASS) for seeking out and vetting accommodation for refugees. A spokesperson explained how the OPW would be looking for large sites, able to accommodate 80 to 100 refugees. ``A lady who wants to rent one room would of course be totally unsatisfactory. We are looking for large buildings like disused convents. We would of course be looking at barracks as well, to see if they are suitable.''

Pat Guerin of the Anti Racism Campaign points out that ``the Minister of Justice, for all his round table discussions and million pound funding to counteract racism, in fact is on a rollercoaster towards the deplorable conditions provided in England for refugees, where many are now held, quite illegally, in prisons. It is a situation which brings shame on every Irish person.''

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