Saturday 17 March 2018

Ireland must do more to help with worst refugee crisis since WWII, says UN

Migrants hold up train tickets in front of the Keleti Railway
Station in Budapest
Migrants hold up train tickets in front of the Keleti Railway Station in Budapest
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A senior United Nations official said that Ireland must do much more to help the EU cope with the worst migrant crisis since the end of World War II.

UN migration special representative and former Irish Attorney-General, Peter Sutherland, warned that it was simply not sufficient for Ireland to accept just 600 to 1,000 refugees until 2017.

Mr Sutherland, who is also a former European Commissioner, stressed that, in his opinion, Europe now has no alternative to imposing a quota system for all EU member states to accept refugees flooding into southern Europe.

"I think Ireland could, and should, take more (refugees)," Mr Sutherland said.

The UN expressed grave concern at the spiralling humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of refugees flee to Europe from war-torn countries in North Africa and the Middle East, in particular Syria.

Charities expressed horror at the rising death toll across Europe's southern borders with photographs yesterday of a dead Kurdish baby washed up on an Turkish beach.

Hungary has now built a 200km-high security fence while other countries have threatened to close their borders.

Mr Sutherland's warning came as both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton signalled that Ireland may be willing to accept more than the 1,000 refugees already agreed for a two-and-a-half year period.

However, Defence Minister Simon Coveney said that Ireland cannot be "generous but naïve" in terms of accepting greater numbers of refugees than there is accommodation resources to handle.

"Ireland has a different position to those who have opted out and are staying out (of the crisis)," Mr Sutherland told NewsTalk.

"(Ireland) is making an effort. I think, obviously, that effort can be and should be increased."

"We are talking here about huge numbers (of people). We are talking about the Germans taking 800,000 applications for asylum by the end of the year. That, proportionately, would require significantly increased numbers from Ireland.

"Ireland, therefore, is not in the position of being a rejecter of common responsibility. We have helped also in the Mediterranean by sending a (navy) ship to help take people and then, it must be said, to leave them in Italy."

Mr Sutherland said Ireland should take more refugees but he refused to say how many.

"I wouldn't be willing to put a figure on it because I think the EU Commission is right in saying this should be worked out objectively,"

The former World Trade Organisation boss added: "The Commission has proposed a formula but I don't know what that formula will be developed into.

"But a formula should be adopted which allows for reasonable sharing.

"We need to look at the exemplars in this, who are Sweden and Germany, in my view."

"I think France and others are becoming (a greater) part of this group. They have also been taking a constructive role."

The Irish politician said that the consequences for Europe of inaction will be far-reaching and potentially tragic.

He pointed out that the crisis now threatens the entire Schengen Agreement for free movement within the EU.

"I absolutely hope that Schengen is preserved but there is no doubt that either we start finding common solutions and sharing responsibility or Schengen is under severe threat and may well not work in the medium term," he said.

"(German leader Angela Merkel) is right in saying this challenge now has to be taken on by everybody. There is no opting out of this. In my opinion, the quota system which is being suggested by the EU Commission has to be applied."

Mr Sutherland also warned that the crisis had rendered the Dublin Regulation on migration controls effectively null and void.

"Clearly, the Dublin regulation did not contemplate the type of crisis we have today. Also, clearly, the Dublin regulation no longer functions effectively."

"But the only way we can find a new and developed way forward is by a united position in Europe, where everybody accepts a shared responsibility for the refugees."

* A NUMBER of Irish charities are working to help refugees both in southern Europe and in Ireland.

Several are running special appeals for Syrian refugees.

Anyone looking for information or who wishes to help can contact:

* Irish Refugee Council (01) 7645854

* Medecins Sans Frontier (01) 6603337

* Irish Red Cross (01) 6424600

* Oxfam Ireland (01) 6727662

* Concern (01) 4177700

* GOAL (01) 2809779

* UNICEF Ireland (01) 8783000.

Irish Independent

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