On the 28th July 2020 CESCA member Nasc*, Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre launched ‘Invisible People: The Integration Support Needs of Refugee Families Reunified in Ireland’.

The report highlights the many challenges faced by reunified families, including significant barriers to accessing housing and a high risk of homelessness, as well as difficulties accessing other essential services. It highlights significant unmet support needs which are likely to hinder integration into Irish society. In total, the report makes 36 recommendations, including the amendment of the International Protection Act, 2015 to provide for greater family reunification rights, the provision of Integration Support and Intercultural Workers to support reunified families after arrival in Ireland and the upskilling of mental health service providers to ensure that their work is cognisant of the experience of reunified families.

Nasc CEO and CESCA member, Fiona Finn states, “’Invisible People’ builds on 20 years of Nasc advocacy work on refugee family reunification. Nasc works directly with refugees and their families through our legal service and we could clearly see that there were issues for refugee families in accessing supports both during the application process and post-arrival. Nasc were really keen to analyse these issues in further depth and so we were delighted to secure funding from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) in 2018 to commission this research.

Refugees who had survived persecution and then spent years living in direct provision, were left entirely without support when their family members arrived in Ireland. The stress of finding housing, employment, medical care and schools for children often place huge financial and emotional burden on families trying to overcome years of separation and trauma.”

Finn continued, “With the enactment of the International Protection Act, 2015 which significantly restricted family reunification rights for refugees, Nasc began to see more and more refugee families struggling to cope with the reality of a permanent separation from their family members. Every week our legal service has to tell a refugee that their parent, their 19-year old child or their minor sibling is not considered eligible to apply for family reunification. This has a devastating impact on families.”

One of the research participants spoke eloquently of the impact of discovering that their family reunification application has been refused:

“So it’s a big, big shock when people’s applications are declined. A big shock. I remember when mine, the first one I had made, was declined I was very angry … And it was all dark. My life was not good at all. …I feel very, very sad for those whose applications are not successful, because they just get so desperate. And that trauma that they already have starts to impact them physically. …And I know a devastated family here in Ireland, a devastated family, because their applications have been declined twice. They’re completely devastated and they have to send their family a lot of money all the time, every year send them.”
By contrast, the sense of joy and relief when families were reunited was palpable from one participant, who felt he could only laugh again once with his brother’s arrival in Ireland:

“I felt that I could—I feel that when I laughed with my brother, that was the genuine laughter. And that laughter affected my health positively. Because I can remember that before my brother came, maybe for two times only I felt that I laughed and that laughter made m[e] happy. Because even when I laughed before the arrival of my brother about the joke or with somebody, I didn’t feel that it affected my health or made me happy…. Maybe it was fake laughter—which I didn’t intend to make. But with my brother I felt it really made me happy for me inside and relieved me, you know.”

Dr. Karen Smith, UCD, one of the co-authors of the report stated, “the refugees and reunified family members who took part in this study have demonstrated extraordinary courage in attempting to build a new life in Ireland, but face significant challenges due to policy neglect– there is an urgent need for a coordinated policy response to ensure access to essential services is provided in an effective and timely manner“.

Report co-author Dr. Muireann Ní Raghallaigh, UCD, stated that “Reunification with family members has the potential to greatly enhance the well-being of people who have been granted international protection and to facilitate their full inclusion in Irish society. However, for many, appropriate supports are required as they and their families re-establish relationships, navigate bureaucracy and adjust to a new society.”

*Nasc is the Irish word for ‘link’. Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre is a non-Governmental organisation based in Cork City. Nasc works with migrants and refugees to advocate and lead for change within Ireland’s immigration and protection systems, to ensure fairness, access to justice and the protection of human rights. Our goal is to realise the rights of all migrants and refugees within Irish society.