FROM SYRIA TO SUDAN:
HOW THE DUBLIN UNITARIAN CHURCH
HELPED A REFUGEE FAMILY

This is a story of how a group of people in the Dublin Unitarian church helped a refugee family: only a different family from the one we set out to help! It turned out to be a very successful and efficiently-run project with a surprising ending.
          At the end of October 2019 the idea emerged from discussion about whether we were going to organise another pre-Christmas party for refugee families that, instead of this, we would try to sponsor a Syrian family currently in a refugee camp in Lebanon under a new Irish government and UN programme. The Community Sponsorship Programme, modelled on a highly successful Canadian scheme which had brought over 300,000 refugees to that country, involves community groups, churches and other grass-roots groups committing to sponsoring and supporting a Syrian family for two years.
          This would involve finding a house or apartment for the family; helping them find schools for their children; helping them access available state benefits and employment opportunities, as well as necessary health, social welfare and English translation services. We would be overseen and supported in these tasks by the Irish Refugee Council.
          In November a group of people in the church set up the Unitarian Refugee Welcome Committee (URWC), with Mary O'Brien and Trish Webb Duffy as its leaders. This committee eventually grew to over 20 members, who shared out the various tasks between them: finding accommodation, fund-raising, garda vetting and so on. We started fund-raising in early December, and through the generosity of the congregation within two months had raised the 10,000 required to register as a community sponsor with the Department of Justice. In fact, due to the great generosity of one particular member of the congregation, we were able to raise considerably more than that sum.
          In early January 2020 we started to look for accommodation, a particular challenge in the middle of a housing crisis. We went to visit seven or eight houses from Booterstown to Clonsilla, from Saggart to Enfield in County Meath. We used the daft.ie website, but more fruitful were personal contacts whom we contacted by sending out an online request for potential 'benevolent landlords'.
          By early March we had discovered what looked like the perfect house: a just refurbished three-bedroomed house in Mulhuddart which the committee members who visited it agreed they would all be happy to move into themselves.
          And then, like the 'beast from the east', came the Corona virus. In the third week of March the Department of Justice announced that because of the virus it was suspending the Community Sponsorship Programme. However the Irish Refugee Council came up with another idea. They had been working for some time with a South Sudanese refugee family a mother with four children who had been homeless and were now living in precarious accommodation in Dublin. Could the Unitarian Church committee help them?
          Within 24 hours a decision had been taken to help this family. Within another 48 hours they were able to move into the house in Mulhuddart. Bedding and other household essentials were provided by the URWC, plus cash for food and other necessary supplies. The family was amazed and delighted at this sudden turn in their fortunes.
          All in all, a story with a very happy ending! Congratulations are due to all involved.

Andy Pollak


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