A local Equality Officer has spoken out to debunk a number of popular myths about asylum seekers and refugees.
David Friel, who works with Think Equality Donegal, was responding to disinformation being circulated on and offline around the issue of displaced people being housed in the county.
“There are a lot of myths about asylum seekers,” he told Donegal Daily.
“One is (foreign nationals) not being garda vetted. Coming to Ireland is not simply about jumping on a plane and arriving here. Non-EU Migrants must have a valid visa/work permit issued by the Irish State.”
Mr Friel described this as a ‘detailed and strict process.’
UN Programme Refugees, he explained, are vetted, security checked by the UN and the Irish government.
EU Settlement Refugees are also vetted and security checked by the government.
In relation to asylum seekers, he said every one of them arriving in Ireland registers with the State at the port of arrival.
“They don’t have a choice. They also register with the office dealing with asylum applications – the International Protection Office (IPO) – and Gardaí. They go through detailed vetting and interview processes as part of their application. The state checks details of their past lives.”
Some locals say they have ‘genuine concerns’, stating that asylum seekers and refugees are being housed in unsuitable accommodation.
Mr Friel agrees some of the housing is below standard.
“I do agree that some premises are not fit for purpose in relation to people living there, but this is the direct result of the privatisation of public goods such as housing, education and health. It creates exclusion,” he says.
In relation to calls that local communities should be consulted in relation to asylum seekers moving in, he strongly disagrees.
“Look what happened in Inishowen, individuals caused arson to a hotel (Moville in 2018),” he said.
“Also, look at where community consultation got us in terms of Travellers – nowhere – just extreme levels of homelessness and accommodation deprivation.”
He rubbished another popular racist trope, that asylum seekers/refugees contribute to an increase in criminal activity.
Ireland’s crime rates have fallen hugely between 2010 to 2015, he said, with nearly a 45% decrease, going from 1.21 per 100,000 people to 0.67 per 100,000 people, during that period.
From 2015 to 2018, the crime rate here climbed, he added, going from 0.67 per 100,000 people to 0.87 per 100,000 people.
Recently, for 2019 and 2020, many forms of reported crime saw an ‘extreme decrease’, according to Mr Friel.
“There is no evidence of crimes increasing due to asylum seekers or refugees,” he stressed.
In relation to refugee centres, and other buildings where asylum seekers are housed, he said these are access controlled and people cannot ‘come in and out as they wish’.
He also pointed out that immigrants and refugees did not cause the housing crisis.
“It results from 20 years of the Irish Government handing housing over to the market, developers, banks, landlords and now investor funds.”
“They (the government) commodified housing. There are 166,000 vacant homes, enough public land to build 100,000 homes. This would solve the housing crisis – blame the government, not refugees/asylum seekers.”
Some commentators claim an influx of foreign nationals would turn parts of towns around Donegal into ‘ghettos’.
“Also the ghettoisation process that is being talked about, the general community has done this for years,” he claimed, making reference to certain areas of Letterkenny.
“Society creates the process of ghettoisation through segregation. Why don’t people feel safe down by the library? Because black people live there, or Roma? This is prejudice – stereotyping and ‘othering’ through the medium of space because certain communities live there,” he concluded.
A highly respected human rights advocate, Mr Friel made history in 2021 when he became the first member of the Traveller community in the north west to graduate with an MA degree. He is also a lecturer at UCD and a PHD candidate.
Find out more about the Think Equality Donegal project here.Tags: