82 refugees, mostly Syrians will be housed in the small town of Ballaghaderreen in County Roscommon. 37 of the refugees arriving are children.
As the news was announced by the Department of Justice there was some mixed reaction in the town of 2000, but despite the unease and anger towards the government for its handling of the issue and its failure to consult, people were mostly sympathetic and wanted to welcome the refugees to their town.
A well attended public meeting organised by local residents and activists decided to take local initiatives to welcome the refugees.
As in many places, the arrival of refugees brings to the surface concerns about the lack of housing, jobs and public services. Many of the Ballaghaderreen residents speaking to the media raised similar concerns and expressed their doubts that the government will provide the necessary services or create the needed jobs.
In recent years Ballaghaderreen has suffered from the closure of small shops, reduced health and other public services and cuts to the County Council budget.
Cutbacks In 2008 Roscommon County Council was receiving €23 million from the Local Government Fund. This figure has been reduced every year and in 2016 it was down to only €9 million. In the same period the budget for housing has also been reduced by €1 million .
Once a ‘busy’ town, Ballaghaderreen has lost many of the local shops and as one resident has put it, “it has lost its buzz. Create jobs, get people back into the town and bring life back”. Maybe the refugees will help with that!
But as the concerns on housing the refugees in the long term are raised there are 282 empty houses in the town. According to the Local Area Development Plan there are enough homes to sustain the projected population growth until 2040.
The two schools in the town can easily serve the newly arriving children if the necessary funds are allocated.
There is already a multi-cultural community in Ballaghaderreen. If the support is given and services provided, refugees can make the town their new home and settle in the community.
What Ballaghaderreen needs is support and language teachers, better medical services and a reversal of the cuts. But everywhere in Ireland needs that and refugees don’t just bring their needs, they also bring a pair of capable hands and new skills.
What is more, an increase in education, health and other local services won’t be just good for the refugees but also for the entire population, locals and migrants.
This is the time to fight for those services, not give into fear and racism.
Warm response As Mary Gallagher, a resident of the town shop owner said,
“How could you say no? You’d be betraying every single thing that we ourselves came from. You think of the people fleeing, drowning, all the different thing that happened these refugees and you have to sort of make the right decision.”
There have been a few attempts to respond to the arrival of the refugees by whipping up anti-Moslem hatred but these have been ignored. The people of Ballaghaderreen are to be congratulated on their warm and generous response.
Memet Uludag is Convenor of United Against Racism which will be holding a National Demonstration on 18 March with the twin themes ‘End Direct Provision’ and ‘Recognise Traveller Ethnicity Now’.