Asylum plan a way to show our better side

Asylum plan a way to show our better side

It’s a month ago today since the bodies of 39 Vietnamese nationals were found in a refrigerator lorry in Essex. In recent days, 16 people were found, alive thankfully, in a trailer on a ferry bound for Rosslare.

Two juveniles were among that group and they are now in the care of the HSE.

The 14 adults, who thought they were travelling to Britain and are believed to be from Iraq or Iran, are in a reception centre.

It’s pointless to try to imagine how many similarly desperate refugees have reached Ireland, Britain or mainland Europe taking similarly desperate measures in the month since the Essex tragedy unfolded.

However, it would be equally pointless to look away, to pretend that is not an escalating issue for all of Europe.

That there was a 20% increase in demand for direct provision accommodation in Ireland last year and that this will accelerate just confirms the obvious.

Amnesty International figures give an indication of the tremendous scale of the crisis.

The NGO estimates there are 25.9m refugees in today’s world, the highest figure recorded. Amnesty says half are children and that 6.7m people are hosted by the world’s poorest countries.

As we are at the opposite end of that spectrum — one of the world’s richest countries — the State has, in almost 20 years, spent more than €1.3bn on accommodation for asylum seekers.

This has met with varied success. Because, in an Irish neo-con way, the vast majority of that spend goes to private providers, predictable questions arise.

Official estimates suggest the bill for asylum seeker accommodation could pass the €120m mark this year, the first time annual expenditure will top €100m. Resources are not the issue it seems, rather their application.

That is the financial cost but the social cost may be greater. The issue, exacerbated by up-to-now extremely poor official communications, has divided communities asked to host asylum centres without even cursory engagement. Worst of all, the crisis has given a platform to racists.

That racism has, hypocritically, been dressed as concern for refugees and the quality of the accommodation offered — concerns that remained unspoken until the issue was localised.

Some ambitious politicians, to their eternal shame, have exploited the opportunity to exaggerate and stoke fear.

That Government plans to house nearly 5,500 asylum seekers in new direct provision centres across the State will, if mishandled, offer further opportunities to those toxic forces.

This welcome programme is in the final stages of preparation and will cost more than €320m. It will, according to the Department of Justice, be accompanied by a new level of engagement with the relevant communities.

This is all positive and if done properly, as the vast majority of Irish people would wish, be beneficial to all involved.

It would also, importantly, give the lie to that vocal but tiny rump of racists who pretend that our world, and our obligations end at our shores.

If this programme is managed properly it can be an opportunity to show that this is indeed a céad míle fáilte society and that we can recognise, remember and try to soften the desperation behind forced migration.

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