The discussion of Ireland's refugee population has been dominating on every social media platform for months now, culminating in protests against refugees and migrants to Ireland both online and person. With hashtags like #irelandisfull trending on Twitter every fortnight, it has evolved into a kind of detached parasocial dismissal of very real people, ones who are often not given option to discuss their lives, experiences and very real fears all which had driven their need to move to Ireland.
John* is one of these people. John's journey to Ireland began in 2021, a successful professional and business owner in his home country, his work with a subjugated minority group in the region resulted in threats of violence to John and his family. Threats which escalated until the only option available to keep them all safe was to leave his native country, his home, his extended family and his friends behind,
When asked what was going through John's mind when he realised, he and his family would have to move, he said safety was the utmost concern for them.
"What was utmost on my mind was safety. Where we could go and think 'OK we are in place where we are safe now', a place where the children can go to school and I won't be worried thinking or looking over my shoulder wondering what can happen to my children. Where we won't be thinking, 'are we safe? or is someone going to be knocking in the middle of the night' or getting threatening calls at midnight."
Prior to what John calls, 'the disruptions' the family's life had been good. They had a lovely home, one which John is obviously very proud of, which now sits empty. When John and his family finally felt like they would not continue to live with fear, they decided to move to Ireland. They had previously spent some time in Ireland in the early 2000's and it seemed like both a safe option and one that would be more accessible than others.
"We had been coasting before the disruptions and I had to stay strong, because any sign of weakness would impact on everybody else. Direct Provision is still a monumental transition to how we live, but I look at it as a learning curve. Then the only problem I have now is the inability to find a house now that we have settled in more so that life can go on."
For John, his experience in Direct Provision in Galway has not been a story of poor treatment, he praised the staff for their support and the treatment of residents saying, "There are some horror stories about places where people are made to come home before 8pm and it's almost like prison like situation, but it's not like that there. It is quite comfortable and the staff there are fantastic."
Until 2022, the number of refugees in Ireland had never reached past the 10,000 mark, even during periods of a marked increase. This figure has now changed due to the war in Ukraine, which has seen some 70,000 arrive to Ireland since the beginning of the conflict in February 2022. The increase is the result of Ireland joining other EU nations in the Temporary Protection Directive, which was introduced in March 2022 in an effort to "alleviate pressure on national asylum systems and to allow displaced persons to enjoy harmonised rights across the EU."
This action has, in a way, created a tiered system for Ireland's refugee population. Unlike the pre-existing population of refugees in Ireland, the population coming from Ukraine do not have to go through the International Protection Application system, which is commonly known as Direct Provision, as their application has been waived by the Temporary Protection Directive. Due to the waiver, the State had entered into an agreement to house the highest number of refugees that the country has ever seen while dealing with an active housing crisis resulting in thousands of Ukrainian refugees being placed in former schools, convents, private hotels and makeshift camps.
With the conflict in Ukraine showing no signs of abating, the population of refugees in Ireland will continue to grow, with Minister for Integration, Joe O'Brien, saying in an interview with The Independent that Ireland should prepare for a further 80,000 people in 2023.
While the general consensus at the beginning of the war, was one of warm welcomes, with thousands of people reaching out to the Irish Red Cross to help house Ukrainian people fleeing the war, the opinion seems to be changing influenced by issues with the healthcare and housing supply with both issues predating the war by years.
Anti-immigrations protests began in November 2022 in East Wall in Dublin, triggered by the placement of refugees in a former ESB building which had been converted into an emergency accommodation centre. The crux of the protest was centred around concerns of locals surrounding a lack of consultation conducted in advance of refugees moving in. The East Wall protest triggered a reactive response across the country from people who agreed with the stance shown by locals in East Wall as well as those who disagreed.
For John, a man who is no stranger to politics, he says that the Government's lack of response to the issue surrounding anti-immigrant mentality is helping to prolong the issue as well as distracting attention from the ongoing and exasperating issues in housing supply.
"Is the Government mining the situation to avoid responsibility for the housing crisis? Because I don't think the response of the Government matches the kind of noise these people are making. Most of those responding to these far-right demonstrations are civil society, but I expect that the Government should be the one actually countering these arguments rather than just sitting back and being confident.
"There doesn't seem to be any claim, at least not in this year's budget for housing and that means that by next year everything is going to get worse because refugees are not going to stop coming and there is absolutely nothing that the Government can do to stop people from coming. The announcement telling people to hold on and not come here doesn't make sense. How do you tell refugees not to come until the next month because you don't have a place for them? How does that work?
"Ireland has a treaty obligation under the EU and United Nations, for which the EU provides some level of funding to the Government. So, it is a failure on the part of the Government not to meet its obligation to provide housing for those who are seeking protection and refuge under the EU treaty, because that's what it is."
When asked how do the protests in Dublin make him feel as a parent, John says that anti-immigrant protests are disappointing but he believes the people involved are a minority within the country's population.
"It is disappointing really, because of the history of Ireland. I see the Irish people as people who should be actually very welcoming of people in desperate situations, I am not saying that the Irish are not, but they should make sure that certain elements in their society do not tar them and make the world see them as people who are anti-immigrants because that is the way it's heading now. Bad news actually makes better news than good news, if a small percentage of the Irish society is allowed to continue to hold these obnoxious demonstrations and anti-immigrant stands it is going to affect the way people see Ireland.
"I don't see them being able to actually change policy as it is, but they could influence policy, because all politicians do is mine situations and get the benefits that come from every situation and use them to distract them from things that are very important. For instance, the housing crisis now, if everybody's paying attention to a few immigrants who are staying in some hotel, in some village in Ireland, then nobody will pay attention to the fact that the Government is failing to deliver on housing and they are happy with that because the more they can discuss things surrounding a few immigrants, they can ignore the bigger things like the housing situation which has been allowed to fester.
"Immigration is a reality of life, immigration is the reality of globalisation."
Since moving to Galway in 2021, John has found work in the healthcare system and sees first-hand the disparity surrounding the discussion of immigration in Ireland.
"Ireland is a land that has supplied more immigrants to any other part of the civilised world, 40% of the white population of the US has an Irish background because of the history and the subjugation they have suffered, the famines for example. So, anyone who is Irish should understand immigration.
"I meet nurses in the hospital and they say, 'I'm moving to Australia', and they probably are going to go and work there for some years. Some say, 'well I'll go for one year or two years,' or that they are going to Dubai, America, Canada, anywhere where they will get some sun. It's immigration. Just imagine if everybody or the society in Australia and New Zealand reacted the way the people are reacting here.
"Immigration is a reality that cannot be changed."
While the discussions on social media platforms around refugees in Ireland use divisive terminology, ones which help cement a 'them vs us' mentality, ultimately people like John are moving to Ireland for the same reasons Irish people are moving to Australia, Canada and nearly every other English speaking 'developed' country in the world, to better themselves. For some it's to better their income, for some it's to better their opportunity, for John it was to better his chances to keep his family alive.
With Ireland's GDP among the highest in the world as well as a rapidly growing economy on the international stage, people are going to want to come here. Coupled with comparatively low crime rates, being highly rated in levels of corruption, press freedom, education and our neutral status, Ireland is a target location as a place of safety and economic opportunity and it will continue to be as long as those things last.
*Names and identifiers have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee.