Refugees and how to deal with migrants is a growing question for many developed nations, including Ireland. Many parts of the world are becoming unstable due to war, poverty, disease and famine. In 2015 there was a 126.2% increase on the number of refugee and Asylum applications in Ireland, with 3,276 applications received during the year. Applications are down in 2016 with 1,573 applying between January 1st and September 31st this year.
The Irish were once migrants to the UK, the US, Australia and many other countries around the world, giving us a rich and diverse diaspora to draw upon. It has now come full circle and migrants are now traveling here. They have unwillingly left their life in their home countries due to unrest, and they are now facing isolation and exclusion here in Ireland.
UCC students Lauren Lehane (Govt. 2), Liam O’Driscoll (Law 1) and Aisling O’Callaghan (world lang. 1) are aiming to build ‘integration through friendship’ for the refugees here in Ireland. These three UCC students recently attended the DCU Ryan Academy and U.S Embassy Dublin Hackathon. There were thirteen teams working on integration projects with various approaches, and at the hackathon around thirty to forty ideas were pitched to the one hundred young people present, who voted on the top thirteen projects to move forward with.
The UCC students were particularly drawn to the idea of the ‘Isle of Hope’ which was pitched by a UCD graduate student, Mark Duffy. The team spent every free minute they had over that weekend doing intensive research, developing their plan, contacting organisations & members of government, and developing a website and social media campaign to raise awareness.
The Isle of Hope is a project which matches refugee families with Irish families to create bonds and friendships, and helps refugees to settle into Irish culture. The matching of the families will be based on interests & hobbies, as well as the make-up of families; for example, if a refugee family has a teenager there will be a match with an Irish family with a teenager of a similar age. After the applications have been completed, the team plans to have a pairing night which reveals the matched families, and the families will then watch a movie together with subtitles. The following weeks include one-on-one family outings and events for all the families to meet together. The other ideas for the families include sports day, movie nights, cooking classes as refugees in centres are often not allowed to cook for themselves.
The team are currently promoting their project online, on radio and in newspapers and they are receiving great response and support. The next steps for the Isle of Hope include meeting with the DCU Ryan Academy in early December to discuss what funding and support is necessary to carry out the project. The team plan to carry out the eight-week program in 2017 in a pilot town, with Clonakilty being the current frontrunner, as it has great community spirit, clubs and activities and also a direct provision centre for refugees. The team will then evaluate how successful the project was in Clonakilty and make the improvements necessary to carry it out in other towns across the country.
As Ireland faces up to its international duties and continues to take refugees from Syria and other parts of the world, integration and intercultural understandings will be key to the success of resettlement here. Isle of Hope is one of many projects set-up to help integrate refugees into Irish Society and help them to make homes here.
To follow the Isle of Hope on their journey of ‘integration through friendship’ check out their website: www.isleofhope.ie.