State took in only 311 refugees despite vow to welcome 4,000
Only 311 Syrian refugees have been taken in by Ireland, despite Government promises last year to welcome 4,000.
A commitment was given to bring the 4,000 here by next September, but the lack of significant progress was criticised yesterday by the Refugee and Migrant Coalition.
Despite thousands of unaccompanied Syrian children living in refugee camps in Europe, only one unaccompanied child has been admitted to Ireland in the past year.
The Government's pledge was made through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme as part of the European response to the refugee crisis caused by the six-year war in Syria.
The coalition, consisting of 20 Irish organisations that help refugees and migrants, called on the Government yesterday to urgently increase its intake of refugees and to honour its commitment to prioritise unaccompanied children.
The coalition wants a humanitarian scheme to be introduced to allow refugees living here to bring loved ones to safety in Ireland.
Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) director, Edel McGinley, told a meeting in Dublin: "Ireland has taken in just one unaccompanied child.
"This is unacceptable. Children seeking safety and protection who are separated from their families are languishing in squalid camps, suffering abuse and exploitation and falling prey to human traffickers because of the failure of EU leaders to manage this crisis effectively and humanely."
Maria Hennessy of the Irish Refugee Council said: "The living conditions for refugees in Greek camps are appalling.
"Families with young children are left in tents in the sweltering heat or steel containers with insufficient sanitation facilities and limited access to nutritious food and healthcare. Refugee children do not go to school."
Fatima Mulay (37), a mother-of-three from Syria, wept as she told the meeting that her husband died while being tortured in Syria and her city of Homs has been destroyed.
She was grateful to be living in a house in Tralee and that her children were learning English in school.
Reiseal Ni Cheilleachair, an advisor with Trocaire, said: "The passport office hired over 200 extra staff to deal with the post-Brexit demand for Irish passports. The Government must be equally proactive in providing adequate administrative, financial and logistical support to meet the needs of refugees in Ireland who are fleeing desperate situations".
"It is now imperative that the Government speed up the pace of relocation, ensure children separated from their families are prioritised and commit to introducing a humanitarian scheme to bring loved ones to safety here in Ireland".
Fianna Fail foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O'Brien said the Government's lack of progress in admitting refugees under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme is "shameful" and showed "a real lack of political will".
"Later this month, we will co-facilitate the first UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants. Ireland should be showing greater leadership in this regard," the TD said.
A Department of Justice spokesman said Ireland has agreed to receive 2,622 asylum-seekers relocated from Greece and Italy and 780 people resettled from camps in Lebanon.
"Of the 780 to be resettled, 293 are already in Ireland, with a further 227 due to arrive before the end of the year. The remaining 260 of that group will be resettled next year," he said.
"Of the 2,622 to be relocated to Ireland, 38 have arrived with another 32 due to arrive imminently ... We hope to start taking in at least 60-80 persons per month very shortly."
He added the Government recognised the importance of addressing the position of unaccompanied children. "Departmental officials are currently on the ground in Athens working closely with the Greek authorities to identify vulnerable unaccompanied minors for relocation to Ireland ... It is hoped that the first of these young people will be taken in as part of a group due to be assessed in early October."