While people often feel powerless to help the vast number of refugees fleeing war, famine and persecution, one group of local people from Naas decided to do something about it.
Through a Government programme, they volunteered to help a Syrian family come to Ireland and build a new life in Naas.
The Naas Community Sponsorship Group (NCSG) was set up under the Community Sponsorship Programme Ireland, in initiative of the Government of Ireland.
In traditional refugee resettlement models, the state provides resettlement and integration services directly to refugees.
Under the new scheme, groups of private citizens become the face of welcome for new arrivals, committing to providing financial, emotional and settlement support to them.
This is a national programme that offers communities anywhere in the country a chance to take responsibility for the integration of a refugee family into their community.
The Naas group was set up in 2019 by local Naas resident Frieda Donohue, who was moved to action by the distressing images she saw in the media of refugees fleeing war.
Once Frieda decided to do something , she found many others in the community who also wanted to help.
There are now 12 members in the group, all local residents who bring a range of relevant financial, administrative and other skills to the project.
The group arrange all aspects of the family's integration, from finding the family home for the first two years after their arrival, to helping the family set up a bank account, learn English and register children in local schools.
Elaine McHale, a member of the group explained that preparing to welcome a Syrian refugee family to Naas, though challenging, is also very exciting.
“I had previous experience of working with a Sudanese family who came to Naas eight years ago. Their eldest daughter is now studying medicine in Trinity and her sister is studying law. Families like this have so much to offer our community and they now consider Naas their home.”
Many people have no option but to flee their homes and countries to try to build a new life in a foreign country, often with a very different culture.
Elaine says that while governments can do a lot to help refugees at one level, “it's local communities who help rebuild the lives of these families.”
The Naas group have raised the required initial funding for the project (€10,000) through fundraising in the local community.
They have also completed a resettlement plan that will ensure that all the necessary supports are in place to help the family become fully integrated in Naas.
Their final challenge in preparing for the arrival of the family is finding suitable accommodation. “The lack of available accommodation has proven the biggest challenge for us” says Elaine.
“The family can't be selected until we have found a house and, while we're desperate not to delay their arrival anymore than necessary, we are finding it extremely difficult to find a property.”
The group has held information evenings, spoken to local estate agencies, placed articles in the local press and posted on social media.
They have given public talks in the local churches, written to local developers and larger corporations to ask for support.
“We are now trying to reach out to more people who may be able to help us to find a property. We know how difficult it is for so many families to find accommodation in a housing crisis, but we really feel that this is such a deserving cause.”
A family enduring very difficult conditions in a refugee camp in Lebanon is awaiting accommodation.
“We will happily look at any property within the Naas area. We have a limited budget, but we would be happy to carry out basic decorative work if required. We hope that there are property owners who would like to have a guaranteed rental income for two years. We will be there to support the family throughout the two year period," Elaine added.
The group is greatly encouraged by the success stories in other communities like Dunshaughlin who welcomed the first community sponsorship family in 2019.
And they remind the public that Irish pe0ple were once refugees during the Great Famine.
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