Sunday 16 December 2018

Taoiseach offers help on migration in return for 'Brexit solidarity'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to French President Emmanuel Macron during the EU summit in Brussels. Photo: AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to French President Emmanuel Macron during the EU summit in Brussels. Photo: AP

Shona Murray

Ireland needs to help solve the EU migration crisis if the Government is to expect continued solidarity on Brexit, the Taoiseach has warned.

Leo Varadkar said the EU had to "respond to the fact that Europeans fear a return to the levels of migration that were there two or three years ago".

Mr Varadkar is attending a two-day EU summit in Brussels where migration is regarded as an issue that could collapse the European project.

"The fragility of the European Union is increasing - cracks are growing in size, we need to find a consistent response now to the migration crisis," said president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.

Mr Varadkar said part of the solution was "solidarity" with the EU countries on the frontline of managing the vast numbers of people arriving to Europe's shores.

"We're looking for solidarity over Brexit so we need to offer solidarity when other countries have problems too," he said.

Migration was top of the agenda because of the lack of progress by the British government on Brexit, and because of domestic matters in Germany and Italy - two countries at the forefront of managing the number of refugees coming to Europe.

The fate of German Chancellor Angela Merkel hangs in the balance and depends on whether the EU can agree a medium-to-long-term plan to deal with the thousands of migrants arriving weekly.

The new Italian government was elected on a platform promising to stem the flow of migrants and refugees to its borders after they are rescued from unseaworthy vessels outside Libyan waters.

In response, the Taoiseach announced that Ireland was trebling its commitment to the EU Africa trust fund to €15m, making it the third-largest commitment per capita of any EU country. Another element of the proposed solution is to manage better the "push factors", or reasons why migrants in Africa feel they have no other choice but to seek sanctuary in Europe.

"Probably the most important thing is helping to reduce the push factors which cause people to risk their lives to cross the Sahara desert to go out in dangerous boats in the Mediterranean to leave Africa for Europe," he said.

"And the reason why people are leaving Africa in such big numbers is because those countries are unsafe, they're ungoverned and there's very little economic opportunity."

He also said Ireland would reiterate a prior commitment to taking 2,000 more refugees.

Last week, Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney offered to take 25 migrants from a charity ship the MV Lifeline after it rescued 230 people from Libyan waters.

The ship had been refused permission to dock in Italy and Malta until a plan was arranged for other member states to share the burden. It followed a similar move days earlier by the Italian government and is a clear sign that no longer can a handful of countries be responsible for refugees.

EU leaders struggle to find solid ground on the issue; Ms Merkel is adamant that her 2015 gesture of allowing one million refugees to come to Germany was the right policy given the humanitarian disaster unfolding on the Adriatic Sea with men, women and children drowning in their droves as they fled war and persecution from Isil and the Assad regime.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business