Refugee Crisis – A time for political leadership

Posted: September 7, 2015 in Conflict, EU, Irish Government, Refugees

Across the world 50 million people are currently displaced because of war. Conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lybia, Eretria and South Sudan have seen an increase in the number of people seeking refuge in Europe.

After five years of conflict almost half of Syria’s 22 million people have been displaced –caught in a brutal war of attrition between the dictatorial Assad regime and the ruthless Islamic State.

Meanwhile the UN Security Council and the European Union stand idly by refusing to take responsibility for a war they played a large part in fomenting.

Worse than this, the response of the EU and its member states to the plight of the families displaced by these wars is nothing short of scandalous. Worse still, the record of the Irish government is one of the poorest in the EU.

It is estimated that 270,000 people have reached Europe’s shores this year, the majority from the war torn Middle East.

The response of the European Commission was to propose the resettlement of 40,000 of these people from Italy and Greece to other countries by the end of this year.

In their generosity the member state governments agreed to only resettle 32,000 over two years. The Irish government said it would take 600 of these over two years in addition to the existing agreement to take in 520 people directly from areas affected by conflict.

Meanwhile thousands of men, women and children are dying in the seas between Europe and Africa.

The heart wrenching image of three year old Syrian national Aylan Kurdi discovered on a Turkish beach shocked us all.

Face down, dead, washed up like a piece of debris, Aylan is a symbol of the plight of the thousands of human beings caught up wars not of their making.

He is also a symbol of the EU’s failure to respond to the refugee crisis in a humane and generous way.

He is one of more than 2,000 people who have died crossing the Mediterranean this year. 3,279 died attempting to make the same journey last year.

Given the scale of the humanitarian crisis there is no room for half measures from our politicians. Now is the time for political leadership.

The crisis demands three urgent responses.

The first is for an EU wide agreement for member states to take their fair share of people fleeing war in Syria and elsewhere.

Lebanon, with a population of just 4.5 million, is currently struggling to cope with 1.2 million Syrian refugees. Surely the EU with a population of 500,000 million can-do better than its current paltry response.

The second is that Ireland needs to speedily and comprehensively overhaul the disgraceful system of direct provision. It is simply not acceptable for human beings to be trapped in an asylum system for years on end, segregated from the general population, living on €19.50 a week.

The third is that the EU and its member states must mobilise all its diplomatic weight to secure an end to the conflicts in the Middle- East.

This will not only require a renewed focus on conflict resolution but a more fundamental change in how the European Union related to the Middle East.

There have been 14 different US-EU military interventions into Muslim countries since 1980. Are we really that surprised that the resource rich region is now ravaged by so much instability and conflict?

The West, from Afghanistan in 1980 to Iraq in 2001, has played a central role not only in the creation of Islamic State but in the ongoing instability across the region within which IS now thrive.

Failure to address this will simply serve to perpetuate instability, war and population displacement.

In short the Irish government must take more refugees, treat them better and put greater effort into addressing the real causes of the crisis.

There are people who will be conflicted by any decision to take a greater share of the refuge population. Their empathy for those from other countries will be tempered by the fact that their own family members are languishing on dole queues, council housing waiting lists and hospital trollies.

Their concerns are genuine and must not be dismissed as xenophobia. The desire to look after our own family and friends is instinctive.

But we must not let these concerns blind us to the desperate situation of the men, women and children fleeing death, torture and rape in Syria and elsewhere.

There is enough wealth in this country to meet the needs of all of us living here and those from beyond our shores who so urgently need our generosity.

The failure of government to adequately meet the needs of our own population must not be used as a reason to turn our backs on others.

We can, and we must, house our homeless, treat our sick, get our young people back to work and find space for those who otherwise would end up just like three year old Syrian national Aylan Kurdi face down, dead, washed up on the shores of Europe like a piece of debris.

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