Category: Archive

Refugees begin arriving; Chinese protect embassy

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — As government ministers welcomed the first group of 138 Kosovar refugees to Ireland, the government thanked Chinese authorities for taking steps to protect Irish diplomatic staff in Beijing who came under attack from students angered by the attack on their embassy in Belgrade.

The first exhausted refugees, who ranged in age from infants to a woman in her 90s, were accompanied on a flight to Kerry’s Farranfore Airport by a medical team, counselors, translators and government officials.

They had arrived from the overcrowded Stenkovac refugee camp outside the Macedonian capital Skopje.

The Irish government made an initial commitment to admit up to 1,000 refugees and a second flight from Macedonia is expected later this week.

"We must respond to the limit of our ability and every citizen has a role to play to make these people welcome in our society," Justice Minister John O’Donoghue said.

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The refugees arrived as Irish diplomatic staff in Beijing suffered the backlash from protests about the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The Irish embassy is next door to the U.S. diplomatic mission.

A rock hurled by one of the students narrowly missed an Irish female staff member when it came through her living room window. At one stage staff and families were moved out to hotels as a safety measure in case of further attacks.

"Protests were sanctioned, people turned up, and we just happened to be in a neighboring building," according to Ambassador Joe Hayes, who said the situation remained volatile but all Irish nationals were safe.

He said that up to 100,000 people had turned up for a demonstration on Sunday and rocks, paving slabs and bottles had been hurled at the U.S. mission

"We never felt the embassy would be stormed," he said. "It was simply that stones and masonry were coming over the wall."

Hayes said it was difficult in a tense situation for the students to differentiate between one embassy and another and one Westerner and another.

Temporary protection

The Kosovar refugees are being granted temporary protection status, which allows them to claim weekly social welfare benefits, free education and medical care and to stay until it is safe for them to return to their homes.

Unlike normal asylum seekers, the Kosovars will be allowed to work or set up businesses when they are settled in.

John O’Neill, director of the Irish Refugee Agency, said some prospective employers had already approached them with possible jobs offers.

O’Neill said the refugees would be brought to reception units around the south of the country holding 50 to 150 and would be kept in family units.

The first group were brought to a former stately home, Drishane Castle, Millstreet, Co. Cork, and Atlas House, a hostel in the tourist town of Killarney, Co Kerry.

Later groups will be going to former convents, hostels and army barracks and they will be entitled to apply for other members of the family to be admitted to Ireland.

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