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Sunday, 9 December, 2001, 14:17 GMT
Refugees seek Celtic Tiger
Asylum seeker
The influx of people is a new experience for Ireland
By BBC Northern Ireland's Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison.

As a country, Ireland is more used to emigration than immigration.

For more than two centuries Irish people left their impoverished state for a new life in the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia.

But now after 10 years of unprecedented economic growth, and what is known as the "Celtic Tiger" economy, Ireland is now attracting refugees.

And they do not always get "a hundred thousand welcomes", or "a cead mile failte", as it translates in Irish.


Many government officials believe they are economic migrants wanting a better life

In 1992, less than 40 people applied for refugee status a month. In the following years that figure rose to about 1,000 a month, although there was a small decline last year.

Those seeking a new life come from many different countries, but mainly from Nigeria, Romania, Moldova, North Africa, Zaire, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

'New experience'

They seek political status arguing that they are victims of persecution in their own country.

But many government officials believe they are economic migrants wanting a better life - a charge that could have been made against Irish people during the 200 years of emigration.

Coping with such an influx of people of different nationalities is a new experience for the authorities here.


Yet Irish people continue to give more in aid to Third World charities than any other nation

What was until very recently an almost entirely white Roman Catholic society is slowly evolving into a multi-cultural state.

The arrival of the refugees caught the authorities by surprise and placed an additional drain on housing and social welfare resources.

While there is no significant anti-immigration movement in Ireland the new arrivals have not always had a warm welcome.

Evolving

A recent Amnesty International report said a majority of refugees believed they had suffered racial abuse.

And yet Irish people continue to give more in aid to Third World charities per head of population than any other nation.


Immigration is not an issue in domestic Irish politics

Clearly, the suddenness of the new found wealth and the subsequent arrival of refugees mean that a coherent response to the country's changing situation is still evolving in many people's minds.

The tragedy in Wexford is likely to make people here pause for thought.

Already some politicians have wondered aloud about why people in other parts of the world are so desperate that they are prepared to risk all by coming to countries like Ireland, and how Ireland should treat them.

Good Friday Agreement

Immigration is not an issue in domestic Irish politics. And it is unlikely to be one in the general election that must be held within the next 6 months.

Ireland is a consensus society and there is all-party consensus that the state must honour its international obligations, even though there is some public unease, particularly in inner city Dublin, about the scale of immigration.

As part of the Good Friday Agreement, Ireland amended its constitution to entitle anyone born here to Irish citizenship.

Many of those waiting to have their asylum cases officially dealt with become parents of Irish citizens and are therefore entitled to stay.

Whether Irish people like it or not refugees, economic and political, will continue to seek a new life in the increasingly rich Ireland.

See also:

30 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Asylum seekers face language test
29 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Asylum seekers to get ID cards
29 Oct 01 | Scotland
Concern over asylum seeker plans
29 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Asylum shake-up at a glance
24 Oct 01 | Health
Asylum system 'damages health'
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