Saturday 25 March 2017

President: We are at a 'critical moment in our history' regarding refugees

Michael D. Higgins
Michael D. Higgins
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

The plight of countless refugees and asylum seekers - many of whom have died crossing the Mediterranean - highlights one of the major challenges now facing developed countries, President Michael D Higgins has warned.

And we are now at a critical moment in world history with crucial "tests and choices" that will determine the future of millions of people.

Speaking at the Irish Humanitarian Summit in Dublin this morning, he said that 2015 "is on a par" with 1945 - which in the wake of the Second World War - also saw widespread displacement and an unprecedented refugee crisis.

Huge humanitarian challenges have now emerged as a result if various conflicts and political collapses in Africa and Asia, he added.

The President said it is vital the reaction to such problems is not "short-term and short-sighted responses based on a narrow sense of national self-interest."

The number of refugees and displaced persons is now at its highest level since figures were first recorded in the 1950s.

By end of last year almost 60 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations.

"To date, the response to addressing the humanitarian reality behind these population numbers, and to addressing the root causes driving people to move has been, in my view, wholly inadequate," said President Higgins.

"In recent months, we in Europe have seen these great humanitarian challenges become manifest in the Mediterranean, where this year alone almost two thousand people have already died making the perilous journey across the sea, fleeing conflict and grinding poverty, hoping for a better life.

"The numbers of lives which have been lost on Europe’s southern and eastern borders have been truly shocking, and we must recognise that this is a human and not a natural phenomenon."

He said the response to date has focussed heavily on border controls, security, and targeting those who are smuggling migrants across frontiers.

"These steps are of course necessary as part of a comprehensive strategy, but the emphasis to date has been misplaced," he added.

"Any suggestion that the current situation can be resolved with such measures alone is misguided, and may lead to security consequences that are far more dangerous to Europe in the longer term.

"I believe that the reality of the present situation, including its historical origins and perspective, has become obscured.

"So too have the moral and ethical issues at stake for institutions, international organisations and national governments and their populations."

He said the “ethics of memory” should not be forgotten when responding to problems such as the refugee crisis.

"One of the great dangers of forgetting our own past is that we can have a false sense of security about the present.

"For Ireland, we remember that among the one million who fled famine and disease during a few short years many were driven to make perilous journeys in inadequate vessels to harbours, which at times rejected them with hostility, but at times accepted them and afforded them the opportunity to begin new lives," he added.

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