The Irish Refugee Council celebrate 21 years
The IRC has its origins in a conference which took place in Dublin in 1988 entitled Refugees in Crisis. Organised by Aidlink, an overseas development agency, the conference was attended by more than 120 participants drawn mainly from religious orders and from development agencies working overseas. The conference concluded by setting up a working group to generate a plan of action, which would include increased public awareness, more coordination among agencies and possibly the establishment of a new network or organisation to facilitate better support and services to refugees.
After several meetings, it was decided to begin the work of setting up an Irish Refugee Council, intended as an ‘umbrella group’ for existing NGOs and agencies, and with a brief covering refugee and asylum work both at home and abroad. The group ‘went public’ with its plans at a meeting in 1989 with the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and other interested parties such as the government-sponsored Refugee Resettlement Committee (supporting Programme Refugees) and the Irish Red Cross (running a small refugee hostel in Dublin). This meeting focused largely on the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland, and was also attended by representatives of the Refugee Advisory Service (a group of independent asylum lawyers set up in consultation with UNHCR), of Amnesty International’s Irish Section, which had been a crucial contact point for asylum seekers arriving in Ireland, and of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement.
In 1992 the IRC was formally registered as a limited company and subsequently obtained charitable status. Although Ireland signed the Refugee Convention in 1956, the country had no system for those who sought international protection here. The first legislative framework was set out in the Refugee Act 1996 (implemented in 2000). Since its origins, dependent primarily upon volunteers and initially the financial support of religious bodies and individuals, it has seen tremendous changes in the asylum process with the introduction of an independent Refugee Applications Commissioner and a Refugee Appeals Tribunal. The IRC has been a witness to those changes and advocated for a fair and transparent system from the beginning. But we have a long way to go: Direct Provision – institutionalised living with dispersal – replaced independent living; the right to work was withdrawn; and lengthy delays have been the hallmark of a system that is not suited for the needs of refugees in the 21st Century. Internationally, we are seeing the worst refugee crisis in nearly 20 years whilst Europe closes its borders ever more tightly.
The IRC continues to work for and with men, women and children in need of international protection. We wish to thank those that have worked so hard to bring us to this day. Thank you for your wisdom, strength, integrity and your financial support! We will strive to continue to work towards an Ireland that provides a welcome and a home for those who are displaced from their own countries.
I commend all of you who, through your involvement with the Irish Refugee Council, tackle the daily reality faced by our refugees and asylum seekers; you who contribute to ensuring that their hopes of a better life, or simply of a life lived free from fear, can be realised; you who – as I emphasized in a speech I gave to your organisation in February of last year – “have not lost sight of our shared humanity.”
May I conclude by encouraging you to continue to shake up societal disregard and indifference, to go on pushing discussions that challenge the faulty categories through which our society, and Europeans in general, grasp the contemporary realities of migration and asylum. In doing so I assure you of my solidarity, and I wish you success and continued courage in your future endeavours.