Ireland’s response to the refugee crisis has been called shameful after just 331 people were given sanctuary here in the past year.
Just one of the new arrivals was an unaccompanied child despite a Government pledge in September last year that children travelling alone would be given a special place here.
There are concerns Ireland is set for international humiliation when the country co-chairs the first ever UN Summit on Refugees and Migration in New York this month at a time when our own contribution to tackling the problem is so poor.
More than 20 groups forming the Refugee and Migrant Coalition have called on the Government to step up its response before then.
They want an urgent increase on the intake of refugees, action on the commitment to prioritise unaccompanied children, and the introduction of a new humanitarian scheme that would allow people already living in Ireland to bring loved ones to safety here.
In the wake of the outcry over the death of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi in September last year, the Government committed to take 4,000 refugees, a figure the coalition says is too low.
Just 38, all from Syria, have been brought here from camps in Greece under the EU relocation programme and 293 from camps in Lebanon under the UN resettlement programme.
Edel McGinley, director of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, described Ireland’s contribution to tackling the refugee crisis as disappointing and depressing.
“We’re bringing in people at a rate of 40-60 a month but we’d need to get that up to 160 per month just to fulfil existing commitments,” said Ms McGinley.
Réiseal Ni Chéilleachair of Trócaire, who has just returned from camps in Greece and Serbia, said: “The bottom line is that people are absolutely desperate. It’s not a refugee crisis. It’s a crisis of political will.”
Maria Hennessy of the Irish Refugee Council said that on a recent visit to Greece, she found unaccompanied children kept in barbed wire compounds waiting to be relocated.
Darragh O’Brien, Fianna Fáil’s foreign affairs spokesman, said Ireland’s official response was shameful, particularly in light of our role at the upcoming summit.
“The Government cannot encourage other countries to adopt a more humane and co-ordinated approach when they themselves do not practice what they preach.”
The Department of Justice said by the end of this year, the number of resettled refugees would increase from 293 to 520, with another 260 to arrive in late spring 2017.
No firm figure has been set for the number of Syrians to be relocated but the department said it had submitted a proposal to Greece to take 60-80 each month and officials were in Athens waiting to interview the next group.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved