Friday 23 February 2018

Is our government doing enough?

Rescue efforts: Members on LÉ Eithne last year as they rescue refugees in the ongoing humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean
Rescue efforts: Members on LÉ Eithne last year as they rescue refugees in the ongoing humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

It was an image that was flashed around the world in September. Pictures of the body of the Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach in September sparked a wave of sympathy in Ireland.

So how much has the Irish State actually done to alleviate the crisis after ­promising to help in any way possible? Various ­bureaucratic log-jams in the EU have meant that migrants from the hotspots in the ­Mediterranean have been extremely slow in arriving here.

Overall, under the Irish Refugee ­Protection Programme (IRPP), the ­Government has promised to take in 4,000 people in need of international protection as a result of the crisis. We can expect much more migrant activity in the coming months as the weather improves.

So far, just 10 Syrians have arrived here as asylum seekers after making their way into Italy or Greece, but more are expected soon.

A further 263 refugees, mostly from Syria, have arrived after initially staying in camps in the Lebanon and Jordan.

The refugees and asylum seekers are being temporarily housed at centres in the ­former Clonea Strand Hotel near ­Dungarvan, Co Waterford, and the Hazel Hotel at Monasterevin, Co Kildare.

Those staying in these centres who already have refugee status should be able to move on fairly quickly. Asylum seekers will have to stay there longer as their claims for refugee status are processed. They are expected to have a 75pc chance of success.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said: "The programme was intended to run until the end of 2017 but given the ­delays in the arrival of relocation ­asylum seekers, this deadline is likely to be ­extended."

Part of the reason for the delays is that migrants are reluctant to seek asylum in Greece and Italy, and this delays their relocation.

According to the Department of Justice, this is due to misinformation being peddled by people smugglers that if they applied for asylum in Italy and Greece, their applications would have to be determined there.

The spokesman added: "It is a prerequisite under the relocation programme that migrants must apply for asylum. This is now beginning to happen on a much larger scale so larger numbers are now available for relocation."

The Irish public has not been shy in making offers for help. There have been 800 pledges to house incoming refugees to the Irish Red Cross.

More than 60pc have offered shared accommodation, while over 30pc have offered vacant houses and apartments - mostly around major cities but also some coastal holiday homes.

With the onset of summer, attention will again be focused on migrants making perilous journeys to Italy and Greece.

It has been estimated by the International Organisation for Migration that, so far this year, just over 1,200 people have died in crossings in the Mediterranean.

The Irish Navy is now resuming its activity. This week the LÉ Róisín set off from Cork and was due to arrive in Sicily yesterday. The crew is to be designated a patrol area off the Libyan coast.

There has been a surge in migrant activity during recent weeks and it is expected to become a more pressing problem in the near future.

The EU naval force in the area has ­recently been picking up a lot of migrants.

The migrant crisis has been one of the most significant events in the history of our Defence Forces.

In 2015, the Naval Service helped rescue more than 8,000 migrants, and some ­observers of the crisis believe it could be even busier this year.

This week it was reported that since the closure of the Turkish route into Europe, more Syrian migrants are travelling to ­Libya with the hope of entering Europe on sea journeys to Italy and Malta.

There are now large concentrations of Middle Eastern and African migrants in Libyan ports who are hoping to make the crossing.

People smugglers are said to be active, crowding migrants on to wooden barges and inflatables that cannot withstand the long journey.

The role of the Navy has been lauded but the Government has been criticised for being party to a deal between the EU and Turkey. The agreement allows refugees and migrants arriving on Greek islands via Turkey to be sent back before they get a chance to apply for asylum. For each person returned, someone in an official refugee camp in Turkey is resettled somewhere in Europe.

A spokesman for the Irish Red Cross said: "We feel the EU-Turkey deal reflects a lack of empathy and humanity, overlooking the true nature of desperation which has pushed so many people to embark on these dangerous journeys."

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