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Sunday, September 25, 2016
Conference calls for greater support for Irish emigrants
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¬†Emigrant Advice Network (…an) hosted an international conference yesterday in Dublin for those involved in supporting Irish emigrants. Opening the Conference, Fr Alan Hilliard, who is …an Chairman and Director of the Catholic Bishops' Emigrant Agency, said: "Ireland's changed economic circumstances in recent times has allowed us to enjoy extraordinary levels of wealth creation and this in turn has thankfully reduced our rates of involuntary emigration. "However, the development of pre-departure information and advice and the hazards of unprepared emigration need to be constantly highlighted. The resourcing of centres, organisations and initiatives that support the Irish abroad ought not just to continue, but to increase. For those returning there are hopeful signs in the work done by the 'Safe-Home Programme' and a number of holiday schemes, but we are only scratching at the surface of the need of those who wish to return." In paying tribute to those who work with the Diaspora Fr Hilliard said: "there are many voluntary groups who have struggled over the last number of years. While they have received minimal funding, they have done their best to provide a valuable service. Even more incredibly, we also have a number of groups whose members are comprised of dedicated volunteers, yet they receive no funding at all for their extraordinary work." Fr Hilliard continued: "We in Ireland - while in the past having no formal structure under which we could apply for funding - now look forward to working closely with the new Unit for the Irish Abroad in order to develop a healthy and insightful structure which should allow us to walk with confidence into the future. We have been crawling for too long." Paying tribute to the Department of Social and Family Affairs, Fr Hilliard said: "For their assistance to date as we worked together in providing information regarding rights and entitlements to our emigrant community. The Task Force Recommendations remind us that the Irish Abroad are in need of much more than information. That is why we are so happy to see the establishment of this new Unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs." Fr Hilliard went on to say that those attending the Conference suffer from the 'Tyranny of Distance' and do not have occasion to network. It is hoped that the networking opportunities at this conference will provide concrete outcomes for all involved with our emigrants. One of the speakers Mr James O'Malley, an Immigration Attorney based in New York, spoke on the issue of US visa law in the post September 11th scenario. The 'zero tolerance' attitude adopted by the US Immigration authorities is having a decidedly harsh affect on many people living in the US or people coming into the US for the first time. This is in stark contrast to the pre-September 11th 2001 atmosphere when immigration officials had broad latitude to exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis. This problem is spilling into other areas of administrative officialdom such as driving licences, school admission, employment and social security eligibility, domestic travel within the US and many other issues." Sheila Gleeson of the Boston Irish Immigration Centre and secretary to the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centres in the US reinforced much of what was said in her workshop entitled 'Myths v Facts of Immigration to the US in 2004,' Sheila stated: "all immigrants, regardless of their country of origin, have felt some of the negative affects of the anti-immigrant sentiment before and since 9/11." Ms Gleeson continued: "Instances of this would be the broadening of the definition of aggravated felonies for immigration." She also pointed out that "there has been a lack of action on any positive legislative agenda." In the present political climate Ms Gleeson noted that it is "unlikely that any full scale legalization programme or amnesty will be introduced." For those intending to travel to the US her advice is: "check the situation in the State where you are planning to go." Mr Ultan Cowley, author of the best selling book The Men who Built Britain gave a multi media presentation on the hidden history of the Irish in Britain. "Their monuments endure canals, railways, roads, dams - but the men themselves have been forgotten." He continued: "the craic was good in Cricklewood - but at what price?" Professor Mary Tilki, Chair of The Federation of Irish Societies presented her paper entitled, Looking Back to the Future: Learning lessons from the Experience of the Irish in Britain. Ms Tilki said that "we need to challenge the idea of migration as a neutral experience and explore how problems can be minimised and benefits maximised. We all too often fail to learn from our mistakes and we don't always recognise the pain of emigration for the emigrant or the community that they leave." One of the Workshops focused on returning emigrants. Ms Mairin Higgins, the Programme Director for Safe Home Programme emphasised that, "Coming home is not for everyone. We have settled close to four hundred people. There are two important questions for those intending to return to Ireland. Firstly, will they be entitled to a medical card and secondly, how much will they have to live on?" Ms Higgins emphasised: "It is one thing to know this information it is another thing for returnees to understand these details for themselves so the right decision can be made." For more information see: http://www.emigrantnetwork.ie Source: Irish Catholic Media Office
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