Confusion over State offer to shelter refugees

Fresh confusion surrounds the Government’s response to the refugee crisis after Tánaiste Joan Burton said Ireland would take in 5,000 Syrians under the UN’s resettlement programme.

The solo run by Ms Burton would commit the country to taking in almost 10 times the number already agreed with the UN which has only asked for 520 Syrians to be resettled here.

Ms Burton also insisted the new arrivals would not be accommodated under the widely condemned direct provision system, yet that is the only system in place to cater for them.

The Tánaiste’s apparently contradictory remarks come as the Government prepares for tomorrow’s separate request from the EU to take in an anticipated 1,800 refugees who need to be relocated from temporary camps scattered around mainland Europe.

In theory, that could put the total Irish commitment at close to 7,000 when this time last week it was just 1,120 — 520 under the UN resettlement programme and 600 under the EU relocation programme.

Ms Burton’s comments came as news to the UN High Commission for Refugees, which said the only plan in place was for the 520 recognised refugees in camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to be resettled in Ireland.

Sophie Magennis, head of the UNHCR’s Irish office said: “It’s up to the Irish authorities if they decide that they want to increase the resettlement quota. That would be fine. But under the resettlement programme at the moment, Ireland’s commitment is to taking 520.”

The Department of Justice, which is expected to take the lead in co-ordinating the Government’s response, had no information about the Tánaiste’s ambitious targets.

Of the numbers intended to come under UN resettlement, the department said: “That particular figure remains at 520. Four such refugees arrived from Lebanon on Monday, 24 August, 2015. A further 72 refugees (15 families) displaced by the Syrian conflict will arrive from Lebanon in September.”

It also confirmed that 1,800, up from an original 600, remained the number of asylum applicants Ireland was likely to be asked to take under the separate EU relocation programme to be announced tomorrow.

The latest confusion at the heart of the Government’s response followed a series of interviews by the Tánaiste in which she repeatedly cited the figure of 5,000 and stressed direct provision would not be used.

“I just want to make that very clear,” said Ms Burton. “These are people who will come in like the people from Bosnia before them and indeed from Vietnam before that. They will come in as what are called in UN terms programme refugees.”

Ms Burton’s spokesperson attempted to clarify the Tánaiste’s position last night, saying: “The Tánaiste was talking in the round about the overall number of refugees that Ireland may take over a multi-year period between both programmes.”

However, the spokesperson could not clear up the Tánaiste’s stated view that all would be UN recognised refugees and would not be put through the direct provision system.

Ireland’s lack of preparedness is in sharp contrast to other EU countries, in particular Germany which has started taking in the first of an expected 800,000 refugees and asylum seekers.

Grassroots movements are still outrunning the Government on the issue with charities and parishes making preparations and more than 14,000 pledges of beds in Irish homes being made.

The Cabinet will discuss the issue and attempt to forge a coherent response to it when it meets tomorrow.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is to seek Cabinet approval for the provision of a range of support services to be put in place in advance of the arrivals and said she was also eager that the offers of help from charities and public be fully harnessed.

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