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13.47 14 Nov 2017


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Updated: 17.25

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has welcomed a new scheme to reunite refugees with members of their families.

The Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan announced the scheme on Tuesday.

Under the plans, 530 family members of refugees already here will come to Ireland from conflict zones such as Syria.

The issue was discussed with Cabinet members this morning, with Minister Flanagan saying the scheme is being announced after 'careful consideration' of the views of members of the Seanad.

Minister Flanagan explained: "Family reunification is an important part of the process of integration for refugees in Ireland. 

"I will operate this humanitarian admission programme under my Ministerial discretionary and it will be in addition to the family reunification provisions provided for in the International Protection Act 2015."

He also said that Ireland has committed to accept 600 refugees in both 2018 and 2019.

Minister Flanagan added: "It signifies our ongoing commitment to supporting the most vulnerable refugees by providing a safe haven and a welcoming environment to rebuild their lives here in Ireland.

"I am proud of the compassionate and welcome response of the Irish people to those fleeing harrowing conflicts, particularly in Syria”.

Oxfam said the announcement of reunification scheme was welcome - but suggested a more expansive & inclusive system for family reunification is needed.

The charity called on the Government to drop its opposition to the Family Reunification Bill, which Oxfam says will restore the family reunification system "that operated in this country for the past 20 years".

A spokesperson said: "Any development which enables refugees already settled in Ireland to be reunited with their family members is a positive one. 

"Any discretionary scheme which enhances family reunion, but which restricts the numbers of people eligible and their countries of origin should be a complementary mechanism only. It does not duplicate or replace the provisions sought through the Family Reunification Bill."

The UNHCR's head of office, Enda O'Neill, said: "Family reunification grants refugees one of the most basic rights, the right of being with their loved ones.

"It can be extremely beneficial, not only to the family concerned, but to wider society and to the State, enhancing integration prospects and the well-being of refugees."

UNHCR has offered Government officials support and assistance in designing the programme, more details of which are due to be announced in the coming weeks.

"In order to ensure an efficient and fair process, it is important to be realistic about the administrative burden that may be asked of refugees who often face difficulties in accessing documentation from war zones", Mr O'Neill added.

With an estimated 1.2 million refugees in need of resettlement, UNHCR also welcomed the minister's decision to increase resettlement numbers to 600 in 2018.

It says this commitment will allow more people to exit dangerous and protracted situations of displacement.

Additional reporting: Jack Quann

 


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