You’re welcome here, kind stranger

De Facto

NOT AN EITHER/OR SITUATION We can still fight for what is needed for Irish people in need without blaming refugees who have been supported.


De Facto

Liamy MacNally

Our response to people escaping from the war in Ukraine must be very simple – céad míle fáilte. We have no choice as Irish people, not that we want or need a choice. The essence of our being, thanks to our ancestral heritage, is that of welcome.
Eons of ‘welcome streams’ flowed here long before us. We have bathed in their waters of warmth and comfort, sharing the life-giving force without question or expectation of a return. It is now our turn.
We cannot let the flutter of social media and the banality of its one-dimensional shadow influence us. In modern parlance, we can use the words sung by Paul Brady in The Lakes of Pontchartrain, ‘you’re welcome here, kind stranger’. We are duty bound to welcome the stranger, a duty to be embraced, not endured.
Yet, we must acknowledge that there are many unanswered questions surrounding the roles of the EU, US, Russia and Ukraine in what exactly is going on. There are even bigger questions closer to home for our own government as they attempt to facilitate so many war-fleeing Ukrainians. There are even questions about the status of some Ukrainians as they arrive here.
There are questions when we are tempted to compare the welcome reserved for Ukrainians compared with those in direct provision (from other countries). There are questions around our own people who are homeless and the ongoing flustering and foostering of successive government departments who have been unsuccessful in dealing with the housing issue.
There are questions about some of our own who are unable to access the services that have been provided on a plate to Ukrainians, like a medical card and social-welfare payment. This is especially true for some Irish self-employed who are ill and yet are denied access to these basic supports in their own country. Truly shameful.    
Regardless, these are all issues, legitimate in every way, but they are not to be used to water down our welcome for people fleeing war. Whatever it is that needs to be done to support those fleeing Ukraine let us do it with a pure heart and good intention. Thankfully, we have never experienced the pounding sound of bombs being dropped and the fear that instils in a person. Today, we need to welcome those who come to our shores and welcome them with open arms.        
All these many serious issues that need attention by our government cannot be reduced to a case of ‘either/or’. Our actions must be based on the ‘both/and’ principle. We can still fight for what is needed for Irish people in need without blaming refugees who have been supported. Government must be both encouraged and challenged to do the right thing, at every level, for every person, including our own.
One of the big challenges facing government is to be aware of and include local communities in their planning. Refugees from anywhere do not live in isolation. They live in community. Excluding communities from having a real say in the relocation of refugees helps nobody and creates ill will and bad feeling. People from war zones do not need any sense of local hostility or government ineptitude piled on top of their suffering.    
Recently, several Irish organisations signed up to a letter, National to Local Response to People Fleeing Ukraine. The following is an edited extract:
“The response to people fleeing Ukraine must be based on an understanding of people’s traumatic experiences and be underpinned by respect for their human rights. We believe that the design and delivery of national and local responses to the Ukrainian crisis should be based on the following principles:
Collaborative cross sectoral partnership between the State, civil society, and other relevant stakeholders at local and national levels; Human rights principles and the promotion of human rights standards in all service provision; The safeguarding of children and families in the procurement and provision of accommodation and all other services; Commitment to expediting the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision; Inclusion of the voices and experiences of people with lived experience.”
In short, it’s time for a céad míle fáilte and a Christmas welcome to our Ukrainian friends. Laskavo prosymo!