Mayo is a safe home for many refugees fleeing war and conflict-torn countries. That’s the message coming from South West Mayo Development Company (SWMDC ), which is hosting a series of events marking World Refugee Day 2019.
SWMDC CEO, Gerry O’Neill, outlined the wide range of supports available to refugees and asylum seekers through SWMDC, from the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP ), the Diversity Mayo project and dedicated support for refugees from war-torn Syria who now call Mayo home.
SWMDC now incorporates Mayo Intercultural Action (MIA ) and Mr O’Neill paid tribute to MIA’s significant record in supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Mayo for the best part of two decades, which is now continuing as part of SWMDC.
Representatives from SWMDC and MIA were invited to the President’s Garden Party on the Wednesday last June 19 to acknowledge the work of those supporting asylum seekers and refugees.
SWMDC’s Maria McHale commented: "We were honoured to be welcomed to Áras an Uachtaráin by President Higgins and Mrs Higgins. President Higgins spoke of the courage of refugees and asylum seekers and the need to create an Ireland that is inclusive, open and generous to all humankind".
Rasoul, a Syrian refugee who attended the Garden Party said: "I was very happy to be treated as any other human being - with dignity. I was very proud to pose beside the president of Ireland for a photograph. Ireland has honoured me."
On World Refugee Day, Thursday, June 20, Diversity Mayo hosted an event at Castlebar Library where three refugees gave an insight into the reasons people become refugees and what the life of a person fleeing conflict is like.
Diversity Mayo’s Patricia Quinn said: "Refugees eloquently shared the dangers they faced, the difficult decision to flee their home country and making a new life in a new country. The delicious food was made locally by a Syrian refugee couple who have set up a food business in Westport."
Rachel Rose of the resettlement team added: "Syrian families arrived in Ireland often with limited English or material possessions; many were dealing with the fall-out from the conflict in their home country. It is wonderful to see the people we work with thrive and grow in their local communities. They are now local business people, parents at the school gate, stars on the local team, welcome and valued members of our communities with so much to give."
Speaking at the coffee morning marking World Refugee Day held by residents in the Direct Provision centre in Ballyhaunis on Friday, June 21, MIA coordinator Natalya Pestova said: "Much has been said of Direct Provision in the last years, but the reality remains that asylum seekers do not feel welcome to Ireland living in a system that treats residents as objects, divides, disempowers and mentally breaks down vulnerable people who have professional skills, education, capacity and the drive to contribute to the country they come to for protection.
"In response to that, MIA continues to advocate for the plight of asylum seekers in Ireland and to enable welcome and inclusive responses from local community."