Thursday 27 October 2016

Merkel's refugee crisis plea could fall on deaf ears in Europe

Published 10/09/2015 | 02:30

A refugee seeks help for an ill child in Hungary yesterday
A refugee seeks help for an ill child in Hungary yesterday

After a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her strongest support yet for a defined and unified refugee policy. She said: "I've rarely held such an innermost conviction that this is a task that will decide whether Europe is accepted as a continent of values". Mr Loefven reflected on the sentiment by saying "our responsibility is deeply moral. It is a human responsibility". (Irish Independent, September 9).

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It appears that the most powerful European politicians are finally starting to view the refugee crisis from a humanitarian rather than narrow nationalist perspective. There are, however, exceptions like Viktor Orban and Robert Fico, the prime ministers of Hungary and Slovakia, who insist if they are going to allow refugees in, then they must be Christian.

This type of eurocentric nationalism reflects the political ethos that preceded the Evian Conference of 1938, a gathering of nations summoned by Franklin D Roosevelt to address the Jewish refugee crisis precipitated by the virulent anti-Semitism of National Socialism. Despite platitudes about the moral injustice of Jewish persecution, country after country, including Ireland, used exactly the same economic and assimilation arguments to refuse entry to Jewish refugees that Orban and Fico use to justify a rejection of contemporary Muslim refugees.

Therefore, although Angela Merkel is undoubtedly leading Germany in a moral humanitarian response to the refugee tragedy, I suspect she will find it just as difficult to engender a unified pan-European response as her predecessors did at the Evian Conference.

Perhaps those politicians and social commentators who espouse an exclusionist world view could learn something from the impassioned plea by Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the UK, who in despair at his fellow citizens' attitude towards the crisis reminded them of his own personal history by drawing an analogy between the rescued children of the Kindertransports after the appalling Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938. He spoke from a Jewish perspective of "how even small humanitarian gestures can light a flame of hope ... knowing that without Britain's willingness to provide our parents and grandparents with refuge, they would have died and we would not have been born".

Lord Sacks makes no distinction between past Jewish refugees and contemporary Muslim ones. He does, however, get to the heart of contemporary European resistance to refugees, an ingrained racism, by saying: "What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose colour, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, love the stranger because you were once strangers ... is summoning us now."

Surely this sentiment resonates in an Ireland blighted by generations of emigration and discrimination. If it doesn't, then truly there is no hope of redemption for the blighted refugees of the Middle East.

Dr Kevin McCarthy

Kinsale, Co Cork

We should not forget our history

I don't think that anyone should fear taking in a few thousand refugees or asylum seekers on compassionate grounds. Of course, there will be a small percentage of undesirables among them, but on the whole, it will be a positive move on a humanitarian basis.

If we look at the amount of people who have emigrated from this country since 2009, it runs into the hundreds of thousands, leaving huge voids in counties like Mayo or Donegal. Many small towns here in Donegal are dying on their feet due to emigration and lack of footfall, so what we need is a modern version of the Plantation of Ulster to regenerate and revive.

To combat whatever fears people may have in relation to accommodating and resettling people fleeing conflict in the Middle East, it should not happen at the expense of our own housing needs. A system should be put in place on entry into the country to ensure that all take an oath to abide by our laws and regulations. A 'one strike and you're served with immediate deportation' rule should ensure that.

Our sporting facilities across the board are suffering because of participants moving overseas in search of work, and wouldn't it be great to see a few Syrians or Iraqis lining out for Donegal at an All-Ireland final in Páirc an Chrócaigh in a few years' time?

With a history like ours, it would not be right if we turned our backs on those people who have risked their and their families' lives to reach the safety of Europe. We have plenty of redundant Army buildings, empty Garda stations and industrial units lying idle, so it's not as if we don't have the means or the capabilities to measure up. We have never been found wanting on compassionate grounds, let this time be no different.

James Woods


Stop meddling in the Middle East

The unfolding tragedy in the Middle East grows ever more grim. The influx of refugees to European countries poses a multitude of political, economic, social, legal and religious challenges. Europe has a moral and legal obligation to offer succour to the wretched victims fleeing systematic persecution in war-stricken nations. But let us be realistic and pragmatic, Europe cannot accommodate the huge hordes of refugees crossing into its territories.

Millions of lives are in danger of starvation, persecution and death, either at the hands of Bashar al-Assad's regime or from the thugs of the self-declared Caliphate of Iraq and the Levant. Is it possible for Europe to bring hundreds of thousands of refugees, especially in this age of austerity, recession, unemployment, domestic violences, knife crimes, Islamophobia, xenophobia, international terrorism and benefits cuts? And are we so naive to think that the harrowing photo of a three-year-old drowned boy has triggered tidal waves of compassion among the political elites in Europe, while hundreds of thousands of innocent children are being killed every day in Syria and Iraq?

Why is there no similar outcry about Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territories and the brutal images of dead and injured Palestinian children and women at the hands of Israeli troops? Now is the time for statesmanship. It is time to stamp out the root causes of the current crisis; end over 60 years of Israel's occupation and oppression and stop meddling in the Middle East.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London, United Kingdom

Irish Independent

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