Choking the cause of this mass migration is vital... otherwise thousands more will die
Published 31/10/2015 | 02:30
It is almost five years since the first terrorised families escaped Syria and crossed the Turkish border. I was in Istanbul recently and saw that the Syrian refugees seeking alms differentiated themselves with a handwritten label in English, stating their origin. Our Turkish tour guide informed us that the official number of Syrian people taking refuge in Turkey is one million; the reality, she said, is more like four million.
According to the Department of Justice, Ireland has already taken in 100 refugees from Lebanon and Jordan, under the UNHCR re-settlement programme.
Before they arrive here, they are labelled and distinguished by their needs. In the next phase, we will be taking refugees who made it to Italy and Greece under the relocation scheme. Scheme after scheme, there are still 24 hours in a day in which they must eat, sleep, work and play, rather than merely exist. Our Government has failed the human beings in the 'direct provision' centres. Ten years on, many of them have never been allowed to work or participate meaningfully in society.
The only way this new refugee relocation programme will work, is assimilation into our society by our society. That is less easily done through formal reception centres. There is a purported 12-week process where the new refugees will end up in a building owned by a direct provision operator.
Many Irish people want to help directly. Our public service is unprepared for the scale of intake we have pledged - over 3,000 - and delays in temporary accommodation are inevitable. The Red Cross and the Irish Refugee Council will be dealing with reception and logistics, but how else can interim accommodation be provided?
I suggest that a website based on the likes of Daft.ie or Airbnb could be set up through funding from the Department of the Environment. If they can pay millions to brand two words 'Irish' and 'Water', this funding will be a drop in the ocean to them. We could call it RAFT.ie (Refugee Accommodation, Food and Transport), where families with spare rooms could offer a safe 'life-raft' to bring refugees closer to safety. Householders can upload photos of the rooms, the numbers they can take and the period of time they can host one refugee, a family or a couple. You might be able to give English lessons, help with form-filling, introduce people into the community, help children with school integration - or just provide warmth, clothing and food, and help them find work. Simply make them feel safe.
Since 2008, over a quarter of a million Irish people have had to emigrate. As bad as that is for their parents and the knowledge economy, it has left many homes with spare rooms. Since then, the recession impacted severely on my own household. I moved my sons to the loft so that I could rent out a room.
One of the people who rented a room from me was a young doctor from Sri Lanka. He arrived in Dublin this year to take up a post in a hospital. Ten years ago he was forced to flee Sri Lanka during the civil war. As a young native Tamil, he grew up seeing bodies dying on the streets. In 1996 during the war, his town in the north island was captured. He remembers queues of people leaving his village as bombs fell around them.
Many Tamils were taken as slaves. His parents moved often, but with three boys and forced conscription to the Tamil Tigers (their motto: one family - one soldier), it was not safe to stay. In their late teens, he and his brother got university places in Belorussia, a region they found to be very racist and unsafe. After two years, they transferred to university in Lithuania, where they graduated in medicine.
Speaking excellent English and fluent Russian, this young man favoured Ireland for his hospital registration. Many of his Sri Lankan friends who could not go to university paid for transit as stowaways on ships or trucks, just as Syrian and Eritrean refugees are doing this year, but few survived.
Back in Sri Lanka, the Singalese oppressor has defeated the Tamil and my Sri Lankan friend did not see his parents for 10 years. In a year or two, he will work in Australia.
Refugees do not have to live off the State. If we enable and empower them, they will contribute to our society just as many who have come here before. We are not the last post in their journey.
Irish citizens are already making a real difference to the crisis. The Calais Refugee Solidarity Group is but one. But this is not only a European crisis because it is on our borders, it is global; everything is global now in an ever-shrinking world.
There is no sign of the U.S. sending in rescue ships, as Ireland has done - to save people from drowning. The core of the crisis has to be tackled and cutting off the oil wells providing revenue to Isil is imperative. Choking the cause of this mass migration is crucial if evil is to be defeated, otherwise thousands will continue to lie on the ocean floor and babies will be swept up on beaches as a reminder of the inhumanity of Isil and those profiting from their misery.