Why Irish eyes aren't smiling on the great Romanian invasion

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The Independent Online
Ireland is facing a refugee crisis, with hostels and welfare offices inundated by an influx of eastern European migrants taking advantage of the country's liberal immigration laws.

The possibility of criminal involvement in an illegal trade was indicated by the arrests of 34 Rom- anians in northern France. Six couples with 17 children were detained at Roscoff moments before they were to board a ferry for Ireland. It was discovered they were travelling under false Spanish passports purchased for the equivalent of pounds 64 each.

At a special hearing in Morlaix this week the six adults were remanded in custody and the children placed in care.

Three more Romanian women accompanied by two children were also arrested at Cherbourg last Friday. They were using passports stolen in Italy and had been brought to Brittany by German drivers, according to French immigration officials.

In Dublin a welfare office had to close when gardai were called to restore order after a crowd of refugees who had been queuing from 7am battered down the door. They became angry on learning the service could not cope with all of them that day. In the chaos that followed, a number of children were trampled on.

The flow of refugees into Ireland has gone from a trickle to a flood, with more than 100 new arrivals each week. Dublin now faces having to cope with 20,000 refugees in five years' time.

The largest single group are Romanians, many of them gypsies. Every day, women and small children can be seen begging with handwritten notes in pidgin English.

Asylum applications shot up from 1,179 in the whole of last year to 1,300 since January, with a total of 4,000 expected by December. Welfare sources say total new arrivals this year is nearer 2,500. Irish local authorities have a statutory responsibility to house the homeless.

Irish Government sources say Romanians form the largest group, with lesser numbers also coming from other eastern European countries, Zaire, Somalia and Nigeria. While Italian and Vietnamese immigrant communities exist in Ireland, their numbers are small. After decades of economic decline, Ireland has only recently attracted foreign immigrants.

Refugee agencies and the Eastern Health Board are asking for more funds and for the burden of providing aid to be shared by more public services.

"Until January you had just four community welfare officers dealing with all the Dublin homeless and newly arrived asylum-seekers in an awful premises beside the Four Courts," says Nadette Foley of the Irish Refugee Council charity.

An official promise of improved reception facilities failed to materialise, prompting welfare staff last Tuesday to refuse to work in another cramped office. They began sending refugees to the justice minister's office and EHB headquarters.

Dublin's problems may become critical when summer tourists fill the city's hotels, leaving no space for refugees.

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