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Saturday 3 December 2016

Leo Varadkar: Health plans for migrants 'on the agenda'

Leo Vardakar
Leo Vardakar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said the HSE is currently preparing for an influx of up to 4,000 asylum seekers but no definite health plans are currently in place.

Speaking to the Herald, Mr Varadkar said a joint working group was discussing the issue but added that money had yet to be set aside for any projects.

“It is on the agenda. There is currently a joint working group involving the different parties working on it and the HSE is on that group,” he said.

When asked if the projects had any monetary value attached to them he said no. 

Director of the Migrants’ Right Centre Edel McGinley has hit out at Mr Varadkar’s comments and has branded what she calls “a lack of transparency from the Government” a reason for “concern”.

Ms McGinley said that access to “doctors and counsellors” is vital for those arriving in the country, as many will have spent months on the road or living in campsites across the continent.

“People arriving will need access to psychological and physical medical services,” she said.  “At the moment, we don’t know what will be in place for them.

“The last thing we have really heard from the Government is that we will be taking 4,000 people, which isn’t enough.

“We still don’t know how or where they will be housed.

“We have still not been given answers as to whether they will be placed in direct provision where we already have 4,500 left stranded in limbo,” she said.

“What we need is transparency and openness. The for-profit system we currently have for housing migrants is not working and is not acceptable. We can’t see a repeat of that in the future.”

Last Thursday, Mr Varadkar signed regulations to exempt asylum seekers who were currently living in direct provision from paying the prescription charge levied on medical-card holders.

The move came after a recommendation from the working group, which expressed concerns surrounding asylum seekers suffering from chronic illnesses.

The Dublin West TD said that the decision was made after it came to light that refugees were struggling to meet the charge, which equates to €2.50 per item, from their weekly payment of just €19.10. 

Mr Varadkar said last week that the exemption would help to “relieve some of the financial burden on people living in direct provision, who previously were obliged to pay the charge from limited State support”.

The exemption was one of the recommendations made by a Department of Justice working group in a report published last week. The only current exemptions are for children in the care of the HSE.

Those on the methadone programme are also covered.

The first wave of asylum seekers are to arrive in the country later this week.

Commitment

Priority is to be given to unaccompanied minors, the Government said, with family reunification also a key plank of the emergency response, which will ultimately add to the initial commitment.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said that special arrangements are being put in place to care for children who arrive without parents, guardians or relatives.

“Ireland has always lived up to its international humanitarian obligation and we are fully committed to playing our part in addressing the migration crisis facing Europe,” she said.

“We have all been shocked and upset at the scenes witnessed in southern and central Europe and the distressing scenes during rescues in the Mediterranean. It is only right that we do all we can as a nation to help,” she added.

The resettlement programme is part of European Commission plans to move 160,000 migrants around the continent.

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