Voices of Syrians: resettled refugees in Ireland

A report by Lucy Michael Research and IOM Ireland for the Irish Refugee Resettlement Programme
 IOM Voices of Syrians report front cover

In 2015 the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established as a direct response to the humanitarian crisis that developed in Southern Europe. More than 13 million Syrians were displaced by war, half of them outside Syria. Between 2000 and 2019, over 3000 refugees from almost 30 nationalities were resettled to Ireland. Under the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme, Ireland brought 2,108 Syrian refugees from Lebanon and Jordan to resettle by 2021. The majority of those arriving under the programme are family groups, with 40 per cent minors of whom three-quarters are children under 12.

In order to understand the integration of these Syrian refugees in Irish society, this research conducted interviews with 153 Syrians who arrived in Ireland between 2015 and 2019. The research findings show that integration was particularly strong in respect of refugees security of immigration status, sense of belonging, feelings of safety, housing security, and children’s’ experiences in education.

Housing security had a positive impact on other areas of their lives, it helped increasing confidence amongst refugees of their future safety in Ireland and the value of social connections in their new neighbourhoods. Social welfare provisions have largely provided the security needed to settle families and plan towards work and education opportunities.

There is significant enthusiasm to learn English amongst all the refugees, but there are some challenges in matching formal language education provision with refugee needs post arrival. Whilst some refugees face literacy challenges due to interrupted education in their home country or a third country, but fluency in English has had the largest impact on their access to work, including self-employment. Many experienced workers with a specialized trade or craft struggle to get employment because English fluency is a prerequisite.

Although all refugees have access to a mobile phone, but only a quarter have access to a laptop or computer. Digital literacy is thus affecting access to services, information, and employment. Women are increasingly learning to drive and planning ways in which they can work outside the home when their children are old enough but they are inhibited by the absence of extended family and the cost of childcare.

Parents are mostly happy with their children’s experiences in schools. A small percentage experience bullying, isolation and trauma-related problems which can impact on family life as well as their experience in education and relationships with other children.

Mental health is a key concern. Refugees often cope with trauma, separation from family members and isolation, and in some cases, physical health problems. Healthcare quality is affected by access to interpreter services and delays integration in other areas. Syrian groups have been formed which provide valuable sources of mutual aid and recognition to their members and increase the resilience of the Syrian population to changes which affect them.

Participants mostly feel safe in their neighbourhoods. There are a small number of cases of persistent racial harassment. Almost all participants have made a close friend since arriving in Ireland, over half in their local neighbourhood, while 37 per cent retain a close friend, they made in a reception centre. Almost all participants speak daily or weekly with family outside Ireland, and this is important to their wellbeing.

Almost all participants say they consider Ireland to be their home now and express a strong sense of belonging. There is a strong sense of commitment to live in Ireland, increasing independence and fully engaged citizenship.

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