Monday 24 July 2017

Time to restore our collective humanity at all levels of society

Allowing children to drown in our seas is a terrible affront to our humanity, says Jim Clarken of Oxfam

Suffer the little children: Migrants walk at a railway station in Munich, Germany, yesterday. Austria and Germany threw open their borders to thousands of exhausted migrants yesterday, bussed to the Hungarian border by a right-wing government that had tried to stop them but was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers reaching Europe’s frontiers
Suffer the little children: Migrants walk at a railway station in Munich, Germany, yesterday. Austria and Germany threw open their borders to thousands of exhausted migrants yesterday, bussed to the Hungarian border by a right-wing government that had tried to stop them but was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers reaching Europe’s frontiers

Jim Clarken

There are stirrings of a popular backlash against the negligence shown by many European governments toward the thousands of desperate people fleeing their homes. Thousands of women, children and men have died en route to Europe this year.

The tragic and profoundly inhumane situation faced by refugees across Europe must end. The news that Syrians are burning their own fingerprints off to ensure asylum and avoid recognition by ISIS, even within EU borders, irks the soul. Their persistent sense of trauma and fear is almost palpable.

The Irish and UK governments must act immediately to reflect the huge support for welcoming these people facing tragic decisions.

This is the largest refugee crisis since World War II and we need to meet our obligations under international law and demonstrate humanitarian leadership in Europe.

It is scandalous and unacceptable that it took so long and so many deaths for a wake-up call and is an absolute affront to the decency and kindness of the public. We cannot stand by and watch this crisis unfold while pictures of such incredible suffering flood our screens. Saving lives must be the first priority for Irish, UK and EU migration policies.

Resettling refugees will not solve this crisis, but it could save thousands of lives. We cannot pretend this is not our responsibility, this challenge has to be taken on by everybody, and we can't wait for Europe - which has abjectly failed to decide on an appropriate, human rights-based response. The governments' efforts must be increased with urgency.

An Taoiseach must immediately convene an emergency meeting of the Dail to decide on Ireland's response. This is a clear time for Ireland to lead by example and not shirk behind excuses such as we have heard from leading politicians across Europe over the last month. We must act now to show our solidarity with people desperately fleeing for their lives - in the same way that solidarity was shown to people from Ireland, North and South, when we fled death and devastation in our own country.

In Italy, Oxfam is responding to the needs of vulnerable refugees who have been rescued from the waters of the Mediterranean. We also provide immediate and life-saving assistance to those affected by the conflict within Syria and the surrounding region. We have seen first-hand the terrible circumstances that force people to risk their own lives, and the lives of their children, by getting into the water on unsafe boats.

The only solution to this appalling situation is political. World leaders, particularly the members of the UN Security Council, must immediately take action to secure peace and end the mass violations of international humanitarian law.

The consequences of inaction in the face of this crisis will be far reaching and tragic. Europe absolutely has the ability to absorb refugees beyond current levels. This must be the starting point that guides the decisions which will be made at the EU ministerial meeting on September 14. Europe has a responsibility to protect the vulnerable and respect the rights and human dignity of refugees arriving at its borders.

There's an urgent need for a unified position in Europe, where each member state makes the effort required to provide safe haven. We call on the Irish and UK governments to increase the numbers of refugees we are accepting, and to join the Common European Asylum Policy as the first step in a credible response to this unprecedented humanitarian emergency.

Europe must offer safe and legal routes for refugees to seek protection rather than fortify our borders, and our governments' roles will be crucial in ensuring safe passage for desperate people.

At Oxfam, we believe without blemish, that all human lives are of equal value and full of potential. A human life crossing the Mediterranean or through the Balkans carries no less value than a human life does in the wake of an earthquake or war.

We believe this is a time for solidarity.

Our main call is to people and to civil society everywhere to join us in humanising refugees around the world and restoring our collective humanity at all levels of society. Share their human stories, promote the campaigns of humanitarian and civil society organisations, and stand firm against any suggestion that undermines the protection of human lives.

The humanity we crave has not disappeared and is not out of reach; the far more tragic experiences faced by so many refugees today call for nothing less.

It is right to say that we must bring peace and security to the countries that are the primary sources for migration, but to use that as an excuse to close your door s is cowardice.

Jim Clarken is the CEO of Oxfam Ireland

Analysis: Pages 23, 30, 32

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