Cabinet’s plan for refugee reunifications welcome but inclusive scheme needed

Cabinet’s plan for refugee reunifications welcome but inclusive scheme needed

Proposals brought to cabinet today to make 530 places available to allow refugees to apply to be reunited with family members living in Ireland are a positive development. 
 
However, according to Oxfam Ireland, a system for family reunification which puts the rights of refugee families on a statutory footing and which expands the current definition of the family is urgently needed. 
 
Last week in Seanad Éireann the Family Reunification Bill passed Committee stage despite Government opposition, with cross-party support from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour and Independents. The Bill seeks to undo the unintended consequences of the International Protection Act 2015 which narrowed the definition of the family for refugees to include only a spouse and children under 18. 
 
This has had a devastating impact on the lives of refugees settled in Ireland. It has separated children aged 18 and over from their parents, divided siblings and destroyed the bonds between grandparents and grandchildren. 
 
Under the 2015 Irish Refugee Protection Programme, Ireland committed to accept 4,000 refugees by the end of 2017. However, currently, less than half of this number have arrived. 
 
Oxfam Ireland said today; “We welcome the proposals by the Minster for Justice. Any development which enables refugees already settled in Ireland to be reunited with their family members is a positive one. There are too many people in Ireland who are currently separated from parents or older children. They long to be have them join them, to be able to provide for them and to live together in safety and dignity, but they haven’t even been able to apply to do this. 
 
The best way for the government to meet its international obligations and demonstrate Ireland’s commitment to those fleeing war and persecution is to drop its obstruction of the Family Reunification Bill. This legislation simply seeks to restore the definition of family which stood from 1996 – 2015, which is more in tune with an Irish understanding of the innate value of the family. Any discretionary scheme which enhances family reunion, but which restricts the numbers of people eligible and their countries of origin should be a complementary mechanism only. It does not duplicate or replace the provisions sought through the Family Reunification Bill. 
 
It is important to note that the bill is not pushing for anything radical or new. It is simply seeking a return to the family reunification system that operated in this country for the past 20 years, and the numbers of people granted reunification in Ireland are low – last year it was approximately 400.” 
 
The Bill was introduced by the Seanad Civil Engagement Group; Senators Colette Kelleher, Frances Black, Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Grace O'Sullivan and John Dolan, who worked with Oxfam Ireland, Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council on the new legislation. 
 
Worldwide, 65 million people are on the move, trying to escape conflict, persecution and disaster. This is the highest number ever recorded in human history. 
 
ENDS