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Ireland - New Hub for Immigrants


Ireland's economic miracle of the 1990s transformed one of Europe's poorer countries into one of its wealthiest. But, that transformation has brought with it change and the Irish are having to cope with an influx of immigrants - something unheard of in years past. But now the Irish are staying put and newcomers are flowing in from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia bringing a vital source of labor and new problems of cultural integration. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from Dublin and on the changing face of Ireland.

This may look like an ordinary day for kids at school, but there is nothing ordinary about this particular school in Dublin. This is the "Bracken Educate Together" school, set up as an emergency measure for the largely immigrant children who were left without a place to learn after other local schools rejected them.

Ola Tella's four-year-old daughter attends Bracken. She says, "I tried so many schools, but I couldn't get a space for my daughter. So we are all thinking it's racism, it's racism. They say there is a school in Balbriggan that's all blacks, it is obvious to everyone, you know?"

Tella's family came to Ireland four years ago from Nigeria. She says many people in her community have faced discrimination when it came to finding school placement.

Branken's principal, Marion Griffin, says it is not an issue of racism. "Basically, the new people that were coming in, mostly immigrants, were newcomers to the town and the places were already gone to brothers and sister and children who were born in the town and as a result there were no places when these people came to the schools. It might have looked on the outside like racism but it was actually not," she said.

Over the past decade as the Irish economy has grown, so has the immigrant population. The country's relatively small population of 4.2 million means that even moderate amounts of migration can have a profound effect. The government's Immigrant Council says immigrants make up nearly 10 percent of Ireland's population, and they come mainly from inside the European Union, though African and Asia immigrants are also on the increase. While the influx has brought some problems, many Irish seem at ease with the change.

One citizen said, "The multicultural dimension that has been introduced into Ireland in the last 10 years or so has been really quite tremendous. It's brought color to Ireland and it's good because the immigrant population has got jobs here, that they might not had at home. It's good for everybody."

Another citizen remarked, "Yes, it's a good thing because we'll get a good football team eventually."

And yet another citizen said, "It definitely has become a lot more multicultural, a lot more variety in the languages that are spoken, in the faces that you see and I think that's a good thing."

Chinedu Onyejele came to Ireland 10 years ago from his native Nigeria. Now, he is the editor of an immigrant newspaper, the Metro Eireann.

He says problems of integration are the fault of government policy, "The government, they are not pro-active. The policy and programs are not very good. They need to improve, but having said that, the people are very welcoming. If the society could be turned into policies and programs, I think Ireland would be a heaven for integration and multi-culturalism."

Conor Lenihan is Ireland's Minister for Integration. He admits the government has been slow to respond to the challenges immigration brings. "There has been a slowness to get off from the starting blocks on this issue - there is no doubt about that. I think the challenge is to get it right. I think in the schools it would be hugely important that we do get it right. If we fail these migrant children, it is not good news for our country," he said.

School principal Marion Griffin says living and working together will bring communities closer. "Of course when children are educated together, it is the very best way of integration. The motto at Educate Together is 'Learn Together, to Live Together.'"

That is the slogan for this school, but many people here say only through understanding and accepting each other can immigration work, and, they say, there is still much work to be done to achieve that.

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