Every now and then someone will try and tell me an urban legend or a myth about refugees, asylum seekers or migrant families and workers and often these rumours are egged on by false media reports and either bias or sloppy journalism. People are angry and need to voice their anger but this doesn’t always go in the right direction and often the finger is pointed at people who are not from here as it’s a scapegoat for the pent up tension in society.
However I am not claiming that people who say these things are just ignorant or uneducated. I think the routes of racism are much more societal and are about the scarcity of resources and people being pitched against each other to fight for these resources. Most people I feel are actually against racism they just do not tend to know the facts, they just know they are defending the right people. The route of racism is a very interesting topic and it stems from a socio-historical analysis of slavery, imperialism, persecution and war. However that is another day’s work; what I want to do here is simply dispel those rotten myths and lies we often hear on the bus, in the post office or wherever.
We often hear individual cases such as a ‘foreign’ person collecting unemployment benefit and flying home to wherever to spend it. These individual stories are quite frankly lies with little or no basis and often concocted by out-and-out racists and bought by many others. The only truth to people travelling to Ireland to claim dole is those who live on the other side of the border and I really don’t blame them as the UK dole is only £60 a week.
We sometimes hear that Ireland is being ‘flooded’ by asylum seekers and refugees. Statistics show that worldwide there are approximately 21 million refugees. According to the United Nations almost 70% of refugees world-wide are hosted by Africa and Asia with Europe receiving less than a quarter of the total. Refugees residing in Ireland amount to less than 1.2% of the Irish population. (According to the 2006 census that would be around 50,000 or 0.2% of the total worldwide refugee population.) I also object to the use of the word ‘flooded’ to describe people moving from one country to another, this word is about water destroy populations and communities and clearly is being applied with negative insinuations about migrants.
Another one is apparently refugees and asylum seekers get free prams, phones, cars and plenty of cash from Social Welfare. This one is just nonsense. No one is given luxurious goods under social welfare. Anyone – immigrant, student, tourist, refugee, asylum seeker or Irish citizen – who chooses to buy such goods pays for them out of their own money. An example are asylum seekers who often buy mobile phones from their very limited income because they may find themselves relocated to another centre at any moment and it offers a vital consistent link to the outside world. There is limited welfare schemes open to everyone whereby, in exceptional circumstances, once-off payments can be made for the purchase of items, such as prams, cots or public transport to access medical services. However the criteria for the scheme are very strict and help is only given in extremely needy cases also these benefits, along with everything else, will come under further attack in the name of austerity. As for asylum seekers getting bigger cash benefits- this is couldn’t be further from the truth. Asylum seekers live in cramped accommodation (often one family to a room), are given one hot meal a day, adult asylum seekers receive €19.10 a week, they are denied the right to work and are subject to deportation at any moment.
The habitual residence clause prevents anyone from outside the European Economic Area claiming benefits. So we do not have people coming from all over the world to ‘drain us dry’ of money and anyway do people really think being on the dole is the life of Reilly?
I heard recently that people living and working here are claiming child benefit or lone parent payment to send home to their children in a different country. This again is a lie. To claim any benefit for your child that child needs to be resident in Ireland. If you think people are getting away with ‘fiddling the system’ in this manner, keep in mind that Community Welfare Officers can be ruthless and regularly call to the homes of claimants and unproportionally investigate immigrants.
Across the water in Britain we have seen the popularising of phrases such as ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ and in Ireland sometimes people claim that Irish jobs are being ‘taken’ by immigrants. Well the Small Firms Association claim that 12,000 of their members report a skills shortage. In other words migrant workers are needed for the economy to function and grow; also the more people that are working here obviously means more people that will be spending their money here thus fuelling the economy. All you need to do is step into a hospital and see all the Doctors and Nurses who came here to fill the void left by the lack of qualified Irish people. Also it is illegal to work and therefore very hard to find a job if you are from outside the European Economic Area (the EU plus Norway and Switzerland).
Some people claim asylum seekers are a threat to the health of the Irish public.
In reality every year we welcome millions of foreign tourists and thousands of business people, students and other visitors and asylum seekers represent only a tiny fraction of all immigrants (6%) the biggest being returning Irish nationals. Let’s not forget also that its mainly Filipinos, Indians and Pakistanis that work in our hospitals, where diseases spread most easily and we haven’t seen any crisis in regards to ‘foreign’ diseases in the HSE have we?
Some say refugees have no right to come here and expect us to help them. Well sorry but pity-bout-ya the Irish Government Has signed the UN Convention relating to the status of Refugees 1951 so therefore we are obliged under international law to offer support and protection to people who are fleeing from their country of origin because of fear of persecution. Most of the time the West is to blame for the poverty, war and famine that causes so many to flee their homes and the Irish state in no small way has been a part of that, whether it be benefiting from the neo-liberalisation of the global economy or through supporting and aiding war in the Middle East.
Also I feel as a developed nation we have a moral obligation to give people from dire circumstances a home, never forget the millions of Irish people who found refugee in other countries because of famine, poverty and political oppression.
Some people claim that liberalising or even doing away with immigration controls would be a disaster. Ireland has a population of 4.5Million people; England is only a small bit bigger than Ireland and yet has a population of 51.4Million people. In 1840 (before and major town developments) Ireland economically and physically held 8Million people, the Famine wiped out more than half through emigration and starvation. We clearly have the capacity and empty housing units to hold much more people than we do. I don’t care what anyone says there is enough money out there to treat asylum seekers properly, except more asylum seekers than we do (Ireland accommodates the least asylum seekers in Europe), provide work for everyone and get back to stability if we just cancel this rotten debt. The savings of the wealthiest people in Ireland in 2005 was 18.5 billion that has increased to 24.5 billion at the end of 2010. Tax the Rich! Cancel the Debt! Treat people like people!
There are no borders! There are no nations! So let’s say no to deportations!
By Karl Gill.