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Tuesday 30 May 2017

Europe's delayed response to Mediterranean migrant crisis 'shameful' - President Higgins

Surviving migrants are seen aboard a life-rafts in the area where their wooden boat capsized and sank off the coast of Libya
Surviving migrants are seen aboard a life-rafts in the area where their wooden boat capsized and sank off the coast of Libya

Jane O'Faherty

President Michael D Higgins has called Europe’s delayed response to the Mediterranean migrant crisis “grossly inadequate” and “shameful”.

Speaking at the opening of an Amnesty International meeting in Dublin, Michael D Higgins said that the displacement of refugees and migrants was the “greatest human rights issue facing the world at this time”.

“As we meet, the rising level of conflict, particularly in many parts of Africa and the Middle East is creating extraordinary levels of displacement and upheaval,” Mr Higgins said.

“I fully share with others a great sense of horror and outrage at the tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea – already over 2000 this year.”

A rescued child is carried off LE Niamh
A rescued child is carried off LE Niamh

President Higgins told those gathered at the meeting in Citywest that individual states like Ireland have helped to alleviate the crisis, but added that “the European response has not only been late, but grossly inadequate, with Italy, Spain, Malta and Greece left struggling to cope with large influxes of refugees and migrants.”

“This failure can only be described as shameful and undermines both the ideal of the European Union and any prospect of that Union being an exemplar for international law and its instruments,” he continued.

Mr Higgins said that he had seen the strife that drive migrants to Europe “first hand”, having visited conflict-torn regions in Ethiopia and Beirut in recent months.

The President was giving the official opening address to the Amnesty International Council Meeting, which began today. Over 400 delegates from around the world will attend the meeting to decide on Amnesty’s priority areas between 2016 and 2019.

Survivor: saved by LE Niamh
Survivor: saved by LE Niamh

Migration has already been marked out as a key area for Amnesty International this year. It comes days after the LÉ Niamh rescued 327 migrants off the coast of Libya after a boat carrying 600 people capsized.

At least 23,000 migrants are estimated to have lost their lives on their way to Europe since 2000. Last year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that more than 3,000 people lost their lives trying to reach the continent in 2014 – making Europe the most dangerous destination for “irregular” migrants.

A coffin containing the body of an unidentified migrant is carried off LE Niamh in Palermo
A coffin containing the body of an unidentified migrant is carried off LE Niamh in Palermo

Mr Higgins declared that stronger leadership was needed to deal with the ongoing emergency, saying that “leadership must be shown and governments held to account as to their human rights obligations to migrants and refugees, particularly when narrow and short-term self interest, or even xenophobia, threaten to weaken resolve.” 

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