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‘We need help’


Refugee support group says agencies must include those who arrive via unofficial channels

Anton McNulty

A WEST Mayo group looking after 44 Ukrainian refugees has called on Mayo County County, the Irish Red Cross and the Government to work with them to help support the refugees deal with their new life in Mayo.
The group was formed in Newport to support refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, and to date they are helping the 44 refugees meet their accommodation, transport, medical and education needs.
Up to 20 of the refugees arrived from Ukraine on a bus organised by local man Michael O’Haire and his wife, Mary, and there are plans to bring more refugees into the county.
Mary Corrigan, who is helping to co-ordinate services for the refugees, said that the group is made up of volunteers, and that they have receive little or no support from the local authority or the Red Cross.
“We are seeing issues coming up now and the reality of the situation is making us realise as a community we cannot do this on our own really. There are 44 people under the care of the Newport group, and as far as I know nobody from the Council or any official body has reached out to anybody within Newport to ask what they can do to help us support these people,” she told The Mayo News.

Coordinated approach
As well as helping the new arrivals source accommodation, the Newport group also helps organise English-language classes. Last week, the volunteers brought a group to the national park in Ballycroy. All the services they provide are done voluntarily, and anything that is provided to the refugees thanks to donations supplied by the local community.
Mary explained that the first of the refugees, who arrived six to eight weeks ago, did not arrive through official government or Red Cross channels. Mary feels that as a result the Newport refugees are not receiving the necessary supports afforded to others.
She believes that in order to prevent refugees falling through the cracks there should be a co-ordinated approach between Mayo County Council and the Irish Red Cross and communities looking after refugees.
“There are Ukrainian families going into communities all over Mayo, and we are at a point that there is so many in the community that there should be a co-ordinated approach for Mayo. We are in danger of ignoring the fact that there is a number of Ukrainian families in Mayo.
“It would be good if there was a central office pulling things together for people within the communities. There are issues coming up and we are doing our best, but it would be better if everything was co-ordinated in an official manner.
“What is happening is if someone comes to us we will look after them, but my concern is that people will get overlooked if we don’t have a proper process in place. We will put all our efforts in to help them settle, but once they are in the community they could be easily overlooked.
“I feel because we have had people for six weeks we have moved onto the next step of the process. We are putting our energy into getting the new families to settle but we are aware that whether it is three months or six months they are going to need more support,” she said.

Joined up thinking
Mary added that since the Newport group was set up it has been contacted by other communities in Mayo looking to help newly arrived refugees. She believes that the Government and other official bodies should not be overlooking the role that communities play in helping refugees.
“We are not the only ones doing this and not the only community taking people in and looking after them outside the mainstream Red Cross and Government way. Communities like ours should be able to work with the Red Cross as well, but there is nothing there at the moment.
“We want to see some joined-up approach, but I don’t know who should lead it. Should it be the Council or another body? I don’t have the answer. But on the ground I can see there is no joined up thinking,” she said.