Topic: Rural Cosmopolitanism, Refugees and Restricted Mobilities in Rural Towns: Experiences from Ireland and Wales.
Keywords: Refugees, Rural Cosmopolitanism, Civil Society, Ireland, Wales.
The geographical distribution of refugees and asylum seekers has become a major political issue in Europe as the displacement of people by the Syrian civil war has added to existing patterns of migration from Africa and Asia. The debate has not only been framed at national scales around the distribution of refugees and asylum seekers between EU member states, but also through questions about where refugees and asylum seekers are settled within countries. Whilst several EU countries, such as Germany and Sweden, have established policies of refugee and asylum seeker dispersal, including to rural areas, in Britain and Ireland the tendency has conventionally been to concentrate refugees and asylum seekers in cities with more diverse multicultural populations. In the early 2000s, both countries introduced dispersal schemes with asylum seekers assigned to reception centres in rural localities. The scheme has faced both opposition from local rural residents objecting to the perceived disruption of presumed homogenous monoethnic rural communities and criticism from humanitarian civil society groups who highlights concerns with the spatial and financial constraints imposed on asylum seekers and their isolation from cultural networks and resources. More recently, the settlement of Syrian refugees in the UK has broken with the policy of the previous 25 years by dispersing refugees across the country, including into rural districts. This paper examines case studies of two rural towns in Ireland and Wales that have received asylum seekers or refugees. Ballyhaunis, Ireland, has hosted a direct provision centre for asylum seekers since 2001, with around 200 asylum seekers in residence at any time, as well as a short-term refugee orientation centre. Aberystwyth, Wales, received Syrian refugees under the first wave of the UK government’s programme, following grassroots lobbying, and has subsequently welcomed refugee Syrian families under an innovative community sponsorship scheme. The paper compares the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees in the two localities as well as the response of local civil society groups. It draws on the concept of ‘rural cosmopolitanism’ to explore how local engagements with refugees and asylum seekers draw on ideas of sense of place and international connections and to examine how refugees and asylum seekers negotiate formal and informal restrictions on their mobility and assess how their capacities are restricted or enabled by the small town location.