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Let’s welcome Syrians with open arms – O’Mahony

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IN THE SPOTLIGHT The Abbeyfield Hotel looks set to house up to 80 Syrian refugees. Pic: Google Maps

Edwin McGreal

Ballaghaderreen-based Senator John O’Mahony is confident the people of the town will welcome Syrian refugees ‘with open arms’.
The Mayo-Roscommon border town has been in the spotlight after the announcement last Friday that 80 Syrians will move into the currently closed Abbeyfield Hotel in the town over the coming weeks.
A lack of local consultation led to a lot of local angst, but John O’Mahony feels there is little local objection so long as support services are adequate.
“As the days pass, I think there has been a general calming,” Senator O’Mahony told The Mayo News yesterday (Monday). “Certainly nobody needs to be put under any more pressure, so if the schools or the GPs are at full capacity, supports need to be made available. We need to welcome our new visitors with open arms and support them in whatever way.
“Ballaghaderreen has a great history of inclusion. We have had a Pakistani population in this town for 30 or 40 years, and that was evidenced in our Mayo All-Ireland Under-21-winning team this year with Shairaoze (Akram) on the team.
“I think everyone has a lot of compassion for the Syrians. You could not [but have compassion] from anytime you looked at TV in the last couple of years and saw the plight of these people,” Senator O’Mahony added.
He added there is local disappointment that the opening of the hotel will not come to pass for at least two years – the length of the lease given to the Abbeyfield for use as an emergency reception and orientation centre.
“There was a refurbishment of the hotel recently, and there were hopes it would reopen, because there is a need for a hotel in the area.
“When this [refugee plan] was announced, the hopes for the hotel opening were dashed. It is disappointing that the lease on the hotel is two years, as that is two more years where it will not be available as a going concern.”
The Mayo Intercultural Action (MIA) project of the South West Mayo Development Company has welcomed the news. The Ballaghaderreen centre will temporarily accommodate Syrian refugees after their relocation from Greece to Ireland.
They will receive English-language and induction supports for an expected six-month period before being resettled across Ireland, at which stage another 80 refugees are expected to arrive.
“The local response to Syrian refugees resettled to Mayo in the last few month is overwhelmingly positive – from the community to the local services, including schools, GPs and statutory agencies. The opening of the Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre in Ballaghaderreen is an opportunity for people in the west of Ireland to extend a typical Irish welcome to families who have lost their homes due to the war and humanitarian crisis,” said Gerry O’Neill, CEO of the South West Mayo Development Company.  
Natalya Pestova, the Project Coordinator of MIA, which has dealt with many refugees from a range of countries, outlined the difficulties they face when coming to a new country.
“Working with refugees and asylum seekers for over ten years, MIA realises the vulnerability of people who suffered the life-changing trauma of being forced to leave their home, family and community. The first experience of living in the new home country is very important for these families. It is particularly important that they feel safe and welcome.
“Having witnessed the degree of goodwill towards Syrian refugees resettled in Mayo, we have a confidence that the people of Ballaghaderreen will welcome Syrian refugees to their community with empathy and support,” she said.

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