Wednesday 16 October 2019

Jason O'Mahony: 'EU should create a new frontier of compassion by opening a safe zone for refugees in North Africa'

Frontier of Europe: A migrant from Afghanistan holds a girl, after arriving on a dinghy on the shores of the island of Lesbos in Greece. Photo: Reuters
Frontier of Europe: A migrant from Afghanistan holds a girl, after arriving on a dinghy on the shores of the island of Lesbos in Greece. Photo: Reuters

Jason O'Mahony

It must be wonderful to be able to be 100pc sure about something. That's one of the tenets of modern politics for so many people, the ability for your side to be absolutely right and the other crowd to be just a gang of blaggards.

You see it in the US with Trump and anti-Trump, and you see it next door with the neighbours and Brexit.

You also saw it recently over the remarks made by Noel Grealish, the Independent deputy for Galway West, about the now-abandoned plan for a direct provision centre in Oughterard.

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For some, the issue is nice and simple. The creepy far-right crowd appear, murmuring in people's ears about how we're all going to be murdered in our beds and the population "replaced".

On the other side are the right-on crowd who accuse anybody of asking legitimate questions about immigration of keeping a signed photo of Himmler in the downstairs loo.

As with everything in Ireland, there's a chunk of grey in the middle, questions to be asked and that always present fear that the Government is as good with complex problems as a cat presented with a Sky remote control.

Let's ask ourselves some questions.

Firstly, should we have immigration? The answer is yes. We have an economic need and actually require the bodies.

We also have a moral obligation. Countries took us in when we hadn't an arse in our trousers, so yes, we do have to reach down and pull up the next guy on the ladder.

Can we afford to? Yes we can. Don't forget, there isn't a shortage of places to house asylum seekers. The local debates kick off only after a place has been proposed. All that aside, however, there are questions that do need to be asked.

You can't blame people for fearing that the Government will drop a group of strangers into a town and wash its hands of them. The Government tends to treat immigration as an issue it is sort of embarrassed about, to the extent that we, the indigenous population, have no idea what government policy actually is.

Are incoming immigrants screened to ensure extremists aren't let in?

Do we have a plan about how to integrate them linguistically and culturally?

Are they given a clear understanding of their own obligations? As it happens, we do have an Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration but we're not exactly shouting it from the rooftops.

There's also the bigger picture here.

Refugees are not just an Irish challenge, but a European one. The rest of Europe (including ourselves, excluding Germany) basically washed its hands of the problem when Italy and Greece found themselves on the front line.

The Greek people in particular deserve a medal for handling the inflow of immigrants as best they could given the general banjaxedness of their own country at the time. We live in a continent that must be prepared to intervene in the ring of instability to our south, and if it means having an EU safe zone somewhere in North Africa and a European defence force to run it and protect the refugees within, so be it. It's our business because it affects us but also because a nation that builds replicas of coffin ships can't morally let people die on beaches.

It's not enough to say they can't come to Galway: if we say that then we have to say where they should go and put our money and our soldiers and engineers and doctors and teachers to the task, along with the rest of Europe, to create a safe place for them.

There we can screen out the fanatics, teach European values and, in particular, raise their children as young Europeans and gradually drip them into our continent to our timetable and our plans.

Such a project will act as a deterrent to those who wish to enter Europe illegally but still be a place we can provide shelter, safety and hope.

It won't be cheap: you're talking about building a little piece of Europe outside Europe. But if that is the price for our secure borders, but also our compassion, then it's a price worth paying.

There's no question, by the way, it'll act as a magnet, but so be it. We already live in a giant magnet anyway, so better it be on the far side of the Mediterranean.

Will it be a target for terrorists, furious at the sight of little Muslim girls being taught that they are equal to their brothers? Yes it will, and it is better (for us, God forgive me for saying) that we fight them there than on our streets in Dublin, Brussels, Amsterdam or Paris.

Some across Europe have been tempted to vote for the far-right because it seems that Europe can not control its frontiers.

This allows us to create not a Trumpian wall but a frontier of compassion, proof that Europe controls who enters but also that we will meet our obligations as part of humanity.

Finally, just in case you're left in any doubt about where I stand on this issue. Aside from people with genuine questions, there is a section of the country who are simple racists who just won't admit it.

There's always an excuse, but when it comes down to it, they don't want black or Muslim faces in our towns and on our streets. They'll dress it up about "looking after our own" and all the rest, but deep down we know where they're coming from. They're the same breed who had "No blacks, no dogs, no Irish" up in their windows a few generations ago.

See them? They can go and attempt something anatomically very challenging.

Irish Independent

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