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Concerns of public on refugees need to be heard and assuaged


Taoiseach: Enda Kenny Photo: Tom Burke

Taoiseach: Enda Kenny Photo: Tom Burke

Taoiseach: Enda Kenny Photo: Tom Burke

Today's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll was taken in the aftermath of two events which have informed views: the drowning of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi in Bodrum, Turkey, in September, followed by the Paris attacks in November, which claimed the lives of 130 people.

Public outcry at the first event forced the political authorities in Europe to react more urgently to the humanitarian crisis of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq, and the failed states of North Africa.

That urgency has so far failed to find a solution to the crisis, although the flow of refugees has slowed somewhat, mainly because summer has turned to winter making the hazardous journey even more dangerous than before.

At the time, the reaction of people here to the drowning of the three-year-old was: "Something must be done."

In response, the Government announced that this country would accept its share of refugees; the number increased in tandem with the emotional consensus at the time, settling on 4,000, the details of their arrival and settlement still to be fully worked out or disclosed.

It is difficult to know for sure to what extent, if at all, the impact of the subsequent Paris attacks has had on a significant finding in today's opinion poll - that 43pc of people believe Ireland's acceptance of 4,000 refugees to be too many.

Before we get into that, however, it is worth noting that the poll also finds more people than not believe the Government's response appropriate: 34pc said the acceptance of 4,000 was right, and 15pc believed that number too few. Those of that view are mostly young and urban.

But it is reasonable to assume the Paris attacks have, to some extent, informed the high level of opposition, mostly among older and rural people, to the government decision to accept 4,000 refugees.

In the aftermath of the attacks, information emerged that one of the suicide bombers at the Stade de France had arrived in Europe through the same route as those hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing appalling humanitarian conditions in Syria in particular.

The reaction of the political authorities, and the media, to a large extent was to play down this development, to the point that the truth of the initial information became confused: the attacker's passport was found, evidence that the passport-holder was the terrorist concerned less certain.

In any event, it seems certain that the Paris attacks and subsequent revelations related to the movement of the Belgium-based mastermind to and from Syria account for another significant finding in today's poll: 59pc are concerned that terrorists could enter this country under the migrant programme, again mostly older and rural.

It was always apparent that jihadis might make use of the open refugee trail to Europe, particularly when Europe was and remains so ill-prepared, and at odds, in how to deal with the vast numbers arriving.

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Perhaps the real truth is that whether or not the Paris attacks had taken place there would still be sizeable opposition here to the acceptance of 4,000 refugees.

It seems more likely, however, that the Paris attacks and other terrorist threats in Europe recently have unsettled people to an extent greater than might otherwise be the case.

For example, a significant 46pc are worried at the prospect of a Paris-style attack here and a huge 68pc believe the security forces in Ireland do not have the capacity to prevent such an attack.

In the round, then, the poll findings reflect a deep-seated unease at European (and Ireland's) policy, or lack of policy, in contending with the refugee crisis.

And that unease is exacerbated when converged with terrorist atrocities such as in Paris; or disturbing events such as occurred in Cologne on New Year's Eve, and in other European cities, it has since emerged. There seems little doubt that belated media reports of mass sexual assaults on European women by recent Middle Eastern and North African arrivals will add to the sense of unease at Europe's migration policy.

These issues will exist for some time - the arrival and assimilation of refugees from warzones and failed states and the threat of further terrorist attacks in Europe: how Europe and Ireland first unravels, then deals with it this year and next and into the future will be critical.

There are some grounds for optimism: the National Front failed to win a single region in recent elections in France, which took place after the Paris attacks and at a time when that country's borders were closed.

Since then, borders, some of razor wire, have been erected throughout Europe, from Scandinavia to the Balkans.

At the same time evidence is emerging of starving children in Syria, images more familiar to famine in Africa or concentration camps in Europe in the last century.

Ultimately the political authorities in Europe (and Ireland) will attempt to muddle through the refugee crisis, but it seems counterproductive for the media to close down those voices which have been detected in today's poll. In the first instance, those voices, or concerns, must be heard by political leaders, and, in the second, must be assuaged, not least with a reassurance that the 4,000 refugees coming to Ireland will have been carefully vetted, and also that the rule of law as applies here and in Europe will be enforced should the need arise.

The refugee crisis will eventually end and assimilation of sorts will take place, although that will take some time, several generations indeed, and, history tells us, with mixed success.

For these remarkable events to be successfully contended with, and for Europe to rise to the challenges presented, skilled political leadership of the kind so far in short supply will be needed.

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