Dr Mary Coffey, who spearheaded the Kells Community Sponsorship Group for Syrian Refugees.

Kells community sponsors Syrian refugee family in Ireland

Today is World Refugee Day, which aims to raise awareness of the plight of people from all over the world who have fled their homes due to conflict and persecution.

While many people feel powerless to help the vast number of refugees who are in need, one small community in Kells banded together via a Community Sponsorship Ireland programme and enabled a Syrian family to come to Ireland and settle directly into the town.

With the Irish Red Cross providing practical training, advice, guidance and support to the Community Sponsorships Groups (CSGs), the Community Sponsorship Ireland programme offers communities a chance to take responsibility for the integration of refugees into their area. From finding the family a guaranteed home for two years to helping them set up a bank account, learn English and register children for school, the group becomes a vital support network for the family.

Mary Coffey, a local GP who spearheaded the Kells CSG, said that welcoming the Syrian family to Ireland last September has been one of the most fulfilling responsibilities of her life.

“I think it’s one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life. I feel something in my life and in my person has expanded because of it. It was no burden on anybody, we’re getting back far more than we’ve put into it”, she said.

A group of at least five people is required to make up a CSG, but Mary says they had more than enough people on board and everyone was eager to help the family – a mother and father with three young children, who had been staying in refugee camps in Lebanon for several years before reaching their new home in Ireland.

“The Irish Red Cross came to some of our meetings and there was a training day organised, it was around cultural competence and it really made us appreciate all that our little community has to offer.

“I would encourage any community who can organise a Community Support Group to just do it. We need people to go out and draw out the best in their communities and open people’s eyes to what is going on in the world. Because people think of refugees as someone who is ‘out there’, it can be hard to identify with millions of refugees but we can identify with real people with real names and real lives.”

If you’re interested in finding out how your local community can sponsor a refugee family, please visit Redcross.ie/communitysponsorship or email communitysponsorship@redcross.ie

ABOVE : Dr Mary Coffey, who spearheaded the Kells Community Sponsorship Group for Syrian Refugees