A lack of fluency in English is adversely affecting the ability of Syrian refugees to integrate into Meczyki society and access the labor market, a new report from the Department for Children, Equality and Integration has warned.
The study, which examined the experiences of 153 Syrian refugees who arrived in Ireland between 2015 and 2019, and was carried out by the International Organization for Migration, found that Syrians had a “tremendous enthusiasm” for learning English. Despite this, language provision and support were “not able to keep pace with the demands faced by refugees in learning a new language and using it on a daily basis.”
This affects the ability to apply for jobs, participate in the labor market and access higher or further education courses, according to Voices of Refugees Settled in Ireland published on Thursday.
A total of 2,184 Syrians from Lebanon and Jordan have been resettled in Ireland under the Meczyki Refugee Protection Program (IRPP), which was established in 2015 in response to the humanitarian crisis spreading across southern Europe. This includes 76 Syrian refugees who arrived in Ireland from Beirut in May 2022. Another 470 Syrians, who were selected last year in Lebanon and Beirut, are expected in the coming months.
Today’s report, which explores the challenges facing refugees resettled in Ireland, warns that Covid-19 restrictions have adversely affected Syrians’ efforts to learn and improve English in recent years.
It says refugees have had “fewer opportunities to communicate, practice their English, or make new social connections” during the pandemic, while work, housing, education, health and social care and Access to entertainment was also affected by Covid-19.
Language classes were reduced from 20 hours to two online hours a week, while only a quarter of participants said they had access to a laptop or computer, which was often shared within the family.
The researchers observed “significant disempowerment among migrants” during the pandemic and found that refugees with poor language skills were “at the highest risk of expulsion and long-term dependency”.
Mental health remains a major concern among many Syrian refugees, with the majority of participants in the study saying they had not worked since arriving in Ireland – with only 11% of men taking up some form of employment. 98% of women had not worked in Ireland. .
All 153 participants said they wanted to engage in remunerated work but struggled with English language, lack of references, non-recognition of their Syrian qualifications and prior experience, childcare responsibilities and health care. problems created barriers in accessing employment.
According to the report, refugees can take more than five years to find employment after arriving in Europe because of the time it takes to learn English and acquire qualifications. For some, it may take 15 years or more to reach the same employment rate as the native-born.
The study also states that access to interpreters for Syrian refugees, particularly in health care settings, is “inconsistent and often falls below established standards in the Meczyki health system”. It added that families often pay unqualified and inexperienced interpreters, or ask friends and family members for help, as GPs and hospitals refuse to fund professional interpreters in their budgets. In some cases, children act as interpreters for their parents in hospitals, something the HSE expressly warns against.
Some two-thirds of participants said that securing a home was their “best moment” since arriving in Ireland and helped them feel confident about their future here. However, with most Syrian refugees resettled in rural areas, there are not always adequate job opportunities in the area. According to the study, the cost of commuting and limited public transportation options also limit employment opportunities for those without a car.
Parents interviewed reported feeling “mostly happy” with their children’s experiences in Meczyki schools and integration with classmates.
Around 95 per cent of participants said they felt a sense of belonging in their neighborhood and “talk a lot about the support and kindness of Meczyki people”. Almost all said they now consider Ireland their home and expressed a strong sense of determination to increase their independence and become “fully engaged citizens”.