Sue Conlan: Time for Ireland to step up to the plate on migrant crisis
The harrowing image of a Syrian child on the front page of most of yesterday’s newspapers has had the effect of highlighting the situation that tens of thousands of people are facing at the borders of Europe.
This humanitarian emergency and large-scale movement of refugees has reached a level that has not been seen since the end of World War II.
The conflict in Syria is a major factor in the current context, displacing millions both within that country and many more to countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
It has been clear for a long time that no serious attempt is being made by the international community to resolve the situation in Syria and that people cannot continue to put their lives on hold in refugee camps.
So the movement of Syrians towards Europe in the hope of a more sustainable future should come as no surprise to leaders of EU countries, including Ireland.
In addition, the movement of people forced out of their countries by political repression, threats to their lives on the basis of their sexuality or their religious beliefs, puts additional responsibilities on countries such as Ireland to live up to their voluntary obligations under the Refugee Convention.
On the borders of Europe at the moment the scenes are reminiscent of Ireland’s dark history of forced migration.
Refugees arriving in Hungary have been herded onto trains to refugee camps in Budapest after spending two days sleeping on the street outside a train station in that city. We have also seen the marking of identification in ink on people’s arms in the Czech Republic, a worrying indication of how some governments in Europe are dealing with the issue that now confronts them.
Thousands of refugees including children are sleeping rough in Budapest, Hungary, on the Serbian border with Macedonia and on Greek islands.
The Government’s decision to accept 600 asylum seekers and an additional 300 refugees in an EU relocation and resettlement scheme is welcome but falls short of what is needed in the face of this humanitarian crisis.
This sentiment was echoed yesterday by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, who stated: “I think there is a requirement for Ireland to step up to the plate.”
In the Irish Refugee Council we have seen a dramatic increase in contact from the general public in the last few weeks, with all kinds of offers of help and support.
We have had people offering rooms in their houses, use of holiday homes, clothes, food, money and questions of how can they help.
This is beginning to match the steps taken by other European citizens with practical support and calls on their own governments.
This sense of benevolence can also be translated back to the Government where a significant difference can be made to the lives of people stuck in this situation.
This unprecedented approach of goodwill and genuine offers of help is indicative of the general feeling amongst the public that, as a country and as citizens of Europe and the world, we have an obligation to help those that are in most need of our help.
The widespread offers of support and solidarity that ordinary people here are offering to refugees seeking protection in Europe can be conveyed to the refugee community here in Ireland.
There are many ways in which people can help or support those that are already here or those that will be coming here.
The welcoming of refugees into new communities and the regeneration of old communities will help ease the path to integration for refugees that are newly arrived.
Those that have been here for years in the Direct Provision system are slowly making the journey to integration but after years in isolation they also should be welcomed into Irish society.
The people in Direct Provision now were not too long ago the people we are now seeing in this morning’s news.
Sue Conlan is CEO of the Irish Refugee Council