Saturday 17 February 2018

Ireland opposes new EU plan to impose quota of international refugees

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

Ireland is among a number of EU countries which will oppose a plan to give us an agreed quota of international refugees.

The proposals are to be unveiled in Brussels in the next few days, as the death toll among asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean reached new levels in recent weeks.

According to the plan "the EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states."

Speaking on RTE radio, Minister of State for European Affairs Dara Murphy said he could not see Ireland having much "appetite for a quota system".

"Ireland has always, I suppose, a very open view of playing our role in taking in a proportional number of people in but I can’t see that there would be an appetite for a quota system," he told Morning Ireland.

"We haven’t seen the proposals from the commission.... [but] it is essential that we take a holistic approach so that we can protect lives and ensure that as few people as possible are lost in the Mediterranean."

Pushed to comment on the Government's specific position regarding the proposed quota system, Deputy Murphy said it was too early to speculate.

"The most important thing now is that we focus on saving people’s lives," he added.

On Sunday, a Department of Justice spokesperson refused to comment on the European Commission's proposals, due to be published on Wednesday, but said the Government was committed to working with the EU to provide the "best possible response to this extremely difficult issue".

"Ireland will continue to assist people affected by conflict and persecution, particularly those affected by the crisis in Syria, where Ireland has provided over €32m in humanitarian support since 2011," she told the Irish Independent.

"Ireland is also strongly committed to helping those affected by less high-profile crises, including many in Africa. It is through assistance of this type that we can reduce the pressure on people to risk their lives attempting to reach Europe."

It is expected the scheme will provoke sharp divisions between EU member countries.

Ireland, Britain, Slovakia and Hungary are among those opposed to the scheme.

"It's a mad idea for someone to let refugees into their own country instead of defending their borders - and then to say I will redistribute them among you," said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Oban.

"This is an unfair and indecent proposal. We therefore cannot support it," he added.

"If we are really going to stop the people putting their lives in danger crossing the Med - we need to stop them starting their journey in the first place," said British Home Secretary Theresa May.

But the long-awaited 'European Agenda on Migration' has strong support from frontline countries.

Italy, Austria, and Germany, along with Sweden, currently accept almost half of all asylum seekers in the EU. The proposal says "emergency mechanisms" could be invoked by the end of the month to ensure all EU countries share "persons in clear need of international protection".

Ms May warned that "many will have paid organised crime groups to get them through [the Mediterranean]" and that "if we are really going to stop the people putting their lives in danger by crossing the Med, we need to stop them starting their journey in the first place".

The total number of asylum applications within the EU increased by 44pc last year, rising to a total of 626,000.

Irish Independent

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