On February 13, 2001, Kosovar refugees living in Tralee and Waterford celebrate their right to become Irish citizens, almost two years after they first arrive in Ireland. A total of 140 Kosovar refugees, displaced as a result of an ethnic war in their homeland, are to be allowed to live in Ireland permanently on humanitarian grounds.
The Minister of State, Liz O’Donnell, says that she is delighted at the successful conclusion to the programme. She tells The Irish Times, “I have always recommended that no one should be forcibly repatriated, so I would wholeheartedly welcome this move. It is exactly as I wanted it to turn out and I am delighted that the overall programme will be coming to such a successful conclusion. This could not have been achieved without the help of the many agencies that contributed to the programme. The multi-agency approach is the key to successful integration and I want to pay special tribute to the staff of the Refugee Agency.”
There is relief and joy at the reception centres for programme refugees from Kosovo in Waterford and Tralee with the news that they can stay here indefinitely. Many of those affected are already in full-time employment or education. In five years time, the Kosovars will be allowed to apply for Irish citizenship.
A thousand refugees displaced in the war in former Yugoslavia came to Ireland in June of 1999. The cost of bringing the refugees to Ireland, providing for them and resettling them comes to between £5 and £6 million.
Over the previous six months, many have gradually returned home, and now those who do not want to go back have been told that they are welcome to officially start their new lives here. However, some Kosovars, who have come into Ireland by other means also claim asylum, saying that they too should be allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds. Their cases are assessed individually.
(Pictured: Iman Sheikh Hussein Halaw, Spiritual Leader of the Muslim Community in Dublin, and Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Liz O’Donnell TD, greet the first group of Kosovar Refugees to arrive at Dublin airport in 1999)